The first results of the Senate Intelligence Committee's Russia investigation could come in the next month
The first results of Congress' investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election could come within the next month, The Wall Street Journal reports. The Senate Intelligence Committee's leadership says it hopes to have a report on U.S. election vulnerabilities out by March, and that the documents are in the process of being vetted and approved by related agencies.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said there is a sense of urgency among committee members to get the report out. It is "something we really need to act on quickly given that we're in an election year, and we know that the Russian efforts continue unabated," she said.
The report is not expected to answer questions about whether members of President Trump's campaign colluded with the Kremlin. Still, it will be the first product of what has now been a year of investigation by the committee.
Experts have warned that the 2018 midterms are still vulnerable to Russian interference. CIA Director Mike Pompeo has gone as far as to claim: "I have every expectation that they will continue to try and [interfere]." Jeva Lange
The Justice Department is gathering evidence to potentially charge Russian officials over the 2016 DNC hack
Justice Department prosecutors have gathered evidence to potentially charge more than six Russian government officials over the 2016 Democratic National Committee hack, The Wall Street Journal reports. WikiLeaks published the DNC emails, as well as correspondences by Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, John Podesta, in the lead-up to the presidential election.
People familiar with the Justice Department's ongoing investigation say that it is unlikely any Russian government officials will actually be arrested over the hack. Instead, the department "has been bringing more cases against alleged hackers acting on behalf of foreign governments as a means of making the allegations public and potentially forcing a change in behavior," The Wall Street Journal writes.
The investigation is separate from the probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russia's role influencing the 2016 election. The Justice Department and FBI were working on their investigation into the hacking for almost a year before Mueller came on. While the case is still in its preliminary stages, people familiar with the Justice Department's discussions say the charges could be brought early next year. Read the entire report at The Wall Street Journal. Jeva Lange
Are you expecting a big announcement in two to three weeks? If President Trump is behind the promise, then don't. "From overhauling the tax code to releasing an infrastructure package to making decisions on NAFTA and the Paris climate agreement, Trump has a common refrain: A big announcement is coming in just 'two weeks,'" Bloomberg Politics writes. "It rarely does."
Trump has dodged criticism of his administration's hesitant and slow policy rollouts by promising a big announcement is just around the bend. "We've got the [$1 trillion infrastructure] plan largely completed and we'll be filing over the next two or three weeks — maybe sooner," Trump said in April, although no legislation has yet been filed. Or when Trump promised an announcement "over the next two or three weeks that will be phenomenal in terms of tax and developing our aviation infrastructure" in February, it took 11 weeks for the White House to actually produce a one-page outline.
Trump's confident exaggerations are a familiar strategy to anyone who has read his book, The Art of the Deal. But "you can't con people, at least not for long," he warned in 1987. "You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don't deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on."
It might already be too late for that, though. "For someone who bills himself as the master of the art of the deal, well, where's the art and where's the deal?" said presidential historian Barbara Perry. "Trump continues to be in campaign mode with a lot of promises that he’s not fulfilling." Read a catalog of Trump's "two week" promises at Bloomberg Politics. Jeva Lange
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has vowed to confirm President Trump's Supreme Court pick, Judge Neil Gorsuch, by Friday of this week by any means possible. As a result, this could be the week that the Senate decides to kill the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, allowing them to be confirmed with a simple 51-vote majority rather than needing to clear the 60-vote hurdle that currently stands.
"It is depressing. I'm very depressed," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told NPR. "We're all arguing against it, but we don't know any other option."
McConnell's threat of invoking the so-called "nuclear option" hangs over the heads of the Democrats, who protest that the Supreme Court seat was unfairly blocked when the pick was rightfully owed to President Barack Obama. Former Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid previously used the "nuclear option" in 2013 to kill the filibuster for executive branch nominations. NPR notes that "neither the 2013 nuclear trigger nor what could happen this week affect the ability to block legislation that falls short of 60 votes."
Several Democrats have said they will vote for Gorsuch regardless, including Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, all of whom are up for re-election in states that Trump won in 2018. Manchin cited his concern about losing the filibuster as one of his reasons for voting for Gorsuch: "What's the place going to look like 10 years from now, you know? What goes around comes around. People that have been here a long time know we're going down the wrong path here," he said.
Eight Democrats would need to side with the Republicans to clear the 60-vote threshold and avoid McConnell's "nuclear option" threat. Jeva Lange
NBC is reportedly in talks to create a weeknight spin-off of Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update," Politico Playbook reports. The 30-minute primetime edition of the SNL staple "could help NBC capitalize on a topsy turvy news cycle," Politico adds.
The talks come as SNL's viewership has ticked up 22 percent, with the show experiencing its best start in over 20 years. "Weekend Update" is SNL's longest running skit, with Colin Jost and Michael Che serving as the current anchors.
The spin-off could be on air as soon as later this year. NBC is reportedly considering Thursday evenings for the program. Jeva Lange
James E. Burke, an electronics engineer for the U.S. Army's Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC), has revealed to Defense One that the U.S. Army is testing handheld ray guns that could be used against other electronics on the battlefield.
The so-called "Burke Pulser" includes two antennae, a piezoelectric generator, and a blast shield to save the user from "hazardous" levels of electricity. Unlike traditional energy weapons, such as lasers, the Burke Pulser is small and fits on top of an M4 rifle. It works by converting the energy released from the gun's firing into electrical energy.
Burke hopes the gun will provide soldiers with "an edge against the ever-wider range electronic and cyber threats" they face, from Bluetooth-enabled explosive devices to consumer drones, Defense One reports. He believes the ray guns would cost less than $1,000 each, though they're still in the test phase. The army is now testing the guns against common electronic devices, and Burke told Defense One the results are "very promising." Meghan DeMaria
The H5N2 virus has cost poultry producers almost seven million birds since March, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking action.
The Associated Press reports that the USDA's Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory in Athens, Georgia, is developing a "seed strain" vaccine to give chickens and turkeys to defend them against the virus. The CDC is also working to create a bird flu vaccine for humans, AP notes, though they believe the human risk of sickness from the recent H5N2 strain is low. Officials believe bird flu will see a resurgence this fall, when wild birds carrying the virus fly south for the winter.
Dr. David Swayne, director of the laboratory, told AP that researchers have already tested several rounds of the vaccine. They expect to start animal testing for the vaccine's effectiveness in early May. If the tests are successful, the vaccine would be produced in the private sector.
Scientists aren't sure which birds would get the vaccine, but they suggested it be given to the "more expensive birds," including the ones used for breeding, AP reports. And the vaccine's cost, which has yet to be determined, would likely be "minor compared to the cost of losing entire flocks." Meghan DeMaria
When it premiered on HBO in March, Alex Gibney's Scientology exposé Going Clear became the network's highest-rated documentary in nearly a decade. Unfortunately, U.K. viewers who are curious to see what all the buzz is about just hit a major setback: Sky Atlantic, which originally planned to air Going Clear, has announced that the film's premiere will be delayed indefinitely.
Deadline reports that the delay is due to legal concerns. Under the U.K.'s notoriously strict libel laws, Sky Atlantic would be vulnerable to lawsuits from church members — a tactic the church has repeatedly used to silence its critics.
This isn't the first time libel concerns have silenced one of Scientology's critics. For the same reason, Lawrence Wright's 2013 book Going Clear, on which the documentary was based, has never been published in the U.K. Scott Meslow