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October 9, 2017

Although President Trump's 32-year-old adviser and speechwriter Stephen Miller has mostly stayed out of the spotlight in the tumultuous White House, he has still managed to craft something of a reputation for himself as an uncompromising conservative firebrand. That reputation dates back to high school, The New York Times learned, where Miller was known by his classmates in liberal-leaning Santa Monica for railing against the janitors and allegedly performing a "patriotic semi-striptease" (unfortunately, a literal one) for the newspaper editor.

Miller also reportedly took a rather unique route to proving, without any apparent reason, that men are physically superior to women:

[Miller] jumped, uninvited, into the final stretch of a girls' track meet, apparently intent on proving his athletic supremacy over the opposite sex. (The White House, reaching for exculpatory context, noted that this was a girls' team from another school, not his own.) [The New York Times]

Notably, the White House did not deny high school Miller jumped into the race. Read the full account at The New York Times. Jeva Lange

August 10, 2017

If Stephen Colbert finds himself inexplicably short of questions for short-tenured White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci next week, he can always ask him about this tweet he sent out on Wednesday night, a salvo aimed at The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza.

Lizza fielded a late-night phone call from Scaramucci during his 10-day White House stint, recorded it, and printed some colorful and often NSFW highlights in The New Yorker. Scaramucci said on Twitter that Lizza did not ask permission to record the call — that would be legal in both New York and Washington, D.C., which both have one-party consent laws, and the conversation wasn't off-the-record. The phone call plausibly contributed mightily to Scaramucci's firing.

Linda Tripp was a central figure in the Bill Clinton Whitewater scandal, for those of you with mercifully hazy memories of the late 1990s. Her secretly recorded calls with Monica Lewinsky revealed her sexual relationship with the president, leading to Clinton's impeachment trial. The Mooch's analogy has a few problems, as Jonathan Chait points out.

Then there's this question: If Lizza is Tripp, who does that make Scaramucci?

And presumably, President Trump is Clinton in this analogy. Which, given the nature of the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship and Scaramucci's frequently professed "love" for Trump, is a little awkward. Also, considering how Clinton's special-prosecutor investigation ended, the Mooch maybe should have thought this one through a bit more before hitting "Tweet." Peter Weber

May 18, 2017

Last week, China debuted its Silk Road Economic Belt (or "belt and road initiative"), a large-scale infrastructure project intended to launch "a new era of globalization" by promoting trade between Asia and other regions. Named for the historic Silk Road, the project is also designed to cast China as the new leading defender of free trade, stepping into a geopolitical role President Trump's protectionist rhetoric threatens to leave vacant.

To promote this new Silk Road — and take a swipe at the United States — China's state-run media outlet People's Daily has released a series of cutesy videos preaching international trade and friendship. Belt and road participants will be able to "talk to the world through peace and love," "start a business and watch it grow," and "take my hand and have no regrets," claymation figures explain in a chipper song entitled "One rap song to tell you what exactly is the Belt and Road."

Another video, starring a man who has decided this international trade initiative is the perfect topic for his preschooler's bedtime stories, pointedly notes that "any country can join anywhere," including the non-member U.S.

Critics say China's new pro-trade rhetoric doesn't mesh with its ongoing trade restrictions. "The only reason China has a leg to stand on in this argument is the campaign rhetoric and ongoing statements of President Trump and his advisers," said Scott Kennedy of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in an interview with The Washington Post.

Watch the claymation video below, and check out two other clips via the Post. Bonnie Kristian

March 20, 2017

President Trump is a hand-shaker — an aggressive one, at times — so it was kind of strange that at an Oval Office photo session with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, he did not shake her hand, despite her asking him if he wanted to. Despite this apparent snub and a later, awkward joke about wiretapping by former President Barack Obama, Trump wants you to know that he had a "GREAT meeting" with Merkel, regardless of what the "FAKE NEWS" and your own eyes might have surmised to the contrary.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer offered an explanation for the strange, apparently icy photo session, where Trump avoided all eye contact with Merkel as well as not shaking her hand. "I do not believe he heard the question," Spicer told Germany's Der Spiegel. If you sit through the first 50 seconds of the photo spray, you can hear what Trump apparently did not — reporters yelling out "Handshake?" and Merkel leaning over and asking if he wants to shake hands:

Now, Trump did shake Merkel's hand at least twice during their visit on Friday.

So if it was meant as a snub or show of pique, it was temporary on Trump's part. And another way to look at this is that Merkel was actually lucky. After Trump's notoriously long handshake with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in February, John Oliver's Last Week Tonight put together this (briefly NSFW) compilation of Trump shaking hands in uncomfortable-to-watch ways. Peter Weber

November 17, 2016
Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images

A Washington state senator plans to propose a bill banning "illegal protests," although many of his critics say his definition of "illegal protests" sounds suspiciously like "protests" in general. Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen announced Wednesday that he wanted to create the crime of "economic terrorism" and "allow the felony prosecution of people involved in protests that block transportation and commerce, damage property, threaten jobs, and put public safety at risk," KOMO News reports.

"Let's keep in mind that civil rights protesters who sat down at lunch counters could be seen as 'disrupting business' and 'obstructing economic activity,' and their courageous actions were opposed by segregationists as trying to 'coerce' business and government," American Civil Liberties Union of Washington spokesman Doug Honig told The Associated Press.

Ericksen argued that he respected the right to protest "but when it endangers people's lives and property, it goes too far. Fear, intimidation, and vandalism are not a legitimate form of political expression." Ericksen added that his bill would also "[go] after the people who fund" and organize protests.

While some critics admit they would need to see the bill first before writing it off, the language being used already appalls others. "We're already concerned that some of its loose terms appear to be targeting civil disobedience as 'terrorism.' That's the kind of excessive approach to peaceful protest that our country and state do not need," Honig said.

"To call [protesting] 'economic terrorism' is just another way to silence it and another way to gain popular support," said Seattle resident Molly Boord. Jeva Lange

November 3, 2016
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

FBI Director James Comey's decision to send a letter to Congress about potentially new emails related to the Hillary Clinton email server investigation has been met with backlash by Republicans and Democrats alike. Concerns grew so rampant that White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest had to clarify that "the president doesn't believe that Director Comey is intentionally trying to influence the outcome of an election. The president doesn't believe that he's secretly strategizing to benefit one candidate or one political party."

In the midst of all of this, though, the FBI has begun an internal investigation into its own Twitter account, ThinkProgress has learned. The issue comes down to @FBIRecordsVault, "the official FBI Records Management Division Twitter." The account hadn't tweeted anything for over a year until Oct. 30 at 4 a.m., when it linked to a bunch of documents, including one about Donald Trump's father, labeling him a "philanthropist." Two days later, the Records Vault account "tweeted documents regarding President Clinton's controversial pardon of Marc Rich," ThinkProgress writes.

The account has not been active since that tweet.

ThinkProgress has learned that the FBI's Inspection Division will undertake an investigation of the account.

Candice Will, Assistant Director for the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility, said she was referring the matter to the FBI's Inspection Division for an "investigation." Upon completion of the investigation, the Office of Professional Responsibility will be referred back to the Office of Professional Responsibility for "adjudication."

Federal law and FBI policy prohibit employees from using the power of the department to attempt to influence elections. [ThinkProgress]

The FBI responded to the controversy with a statement: "Per the standard procedure for FOIA, these materials became available for release and were posted automatically and electronically to the FBI's public reading room in accordance with the law and established procedures."

The department has reportedly been plagued with infighting about how to handle the renewed Clinton email scandal. Jeva Lange

October 26, 2016
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With 13 days until the election, Hillary Clinton is in Florida on Wednesday, with Tim Kaine and Elizabeth Warren in Pennsylvania and Chelsea Clinton cruising through Ohio. Donald Trump, meanwhile, is off the campaign trail Wednesday morning to open the Trump International Hotel in deeply liberal Washington, D.C.

The hotel opening will be Trump's second marketing event this week. At an event Tuesday, Trump boasted about Trump National Doral Miami, calling it "one of the greatest places on Earth" and bragging that "bookings are through the roof." On Monday, Trump's campaign also did a soft-launch of a new nightly Facebook live TV program that many believe is a precursor to a Trump media organization.

Trump's campaign has defended their candidate's decision to go to Washington on business so late in the game. "Mr. Trump is attending the opening of his latest project, what many say is the finest hotel in the country," his spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, told Politico. "He is extremely proud of the development, which was finished under budget and ahead of schedule."

Many others don't see it that way. "This is the worst message to send to all of those true and loyal Trump supporters out there who actually did believe in him and actually did have a stake in this election," Kevin Madden, a former adviser to Mitt Romney, told The New York Times. "With less than two weeks to go until Election Day, Mr. Trump is repaying them by using their campaign to showcase his hotel. He said he wouldn't let them down, but he already has. They have a right to be disappointed."

"Politics is a side hobby for Trump, kind of like fishing or model railroading. Hotels, that's serious business, and I hear the hotel is fabulous," top Republican strategist Curt Anderson told Politico. "Which of his aides would like to take credit for scheduling this trip to D.C.? Is no one able to stand up to this guy? No one at all?" Jeva Lange

October 21, 2016
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

You never know where Bill Murray is going to pop up. There is as good a chance as any you'll run into him at your favorite bar, your karaoke night, or, you know, while shooting your engagement photos.

Indeed, where Murray may wander has no limits. On Friday, decked in Chicago Cubs gear, the actor popped into the briefing room at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue just after White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest had finished his daily briefing. When asked for an explanation by The Hill, a spokesperson confirmed Murray will be receiving the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Sunday from President Obama, which is why he was lurking around the White House in the first place.

Joe Biden, Michelle Obama — stay on your toes. Jeva Lange

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