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May 8, 2018
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Michael Avenatti, the attorney for adult film actress Stormy Daniels, said on Tuesday that President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, received about $500,000 from a company controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch under sanctions with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The money was given to Cohen in the months after the 2016 presidential election, Avenatti said, and may have reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 payment he made to Daniels in exchange for her silence regarding an affair she said she had with Trump in 2006. Cohen had said he used his own money for the payment, and Trump claimed he knew nothing about it, but last week, Trump's new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said Trump reimbursed Cohen the $130,000 he paid Daniels.

Avenatti released a report stating that the company Cohen set up to make the payment to Daniels, Essential Consultants LLC, received $500,000 in payments from Vekselberg from January to August 2017. CNN reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team has asked Vekselberg about the payments, plus donations the head of his U.S. affiliate made to the Trump campaign and his inaugural fund. Avenatti's report also says the Essential Consultants LLC bank account received nearly $400,000 in payments from Novartis, deposited shortly before Trump reportedly had a meeting in Switzerland with the pharmaceutical company's CEO. Catherine Garcia

January 29, 2018

On Monday, Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign manager conceded that Clinton made a mistake by not firing a top aide accused of sexual harassment. The New York Times reported last Friday that during her 2008 run, Clinton refused to fire Burns Strider — the campaign's faith adviser — after he was accused of sexual harassment by another staffer. Shortly after the allegations against Strider became public, Clinton addressed the story on Twitter with a non-apology that was lambasted by people on both sides of the aisle.

Patti Solis Doyle, Clinton's campaign boss in 2008, appeared on CNN on Monday to talk about her former boss' decision. Doyle said she found the allegations against Strider "credible" and confirmed to CNN's Brianna Keilar that she was "overruled" by Clinton when she recommended Strider's firing. "Why doesn't [Clinton] just look back and say, 'This was the wrong call?'" Keilar asked. Doyle took in a sharp breath before saying, "You know, I don't know."

Doyle continued: "I wish she had said it was the wrong call. I wish she had said, 'You know, having to do it over, I should have fired him.'" Keilar pointed out that Strider later got an important job at the Clinton-affiliated super PAC Correct the Record — where he was fired after allegations of sexual harassment. Keilar asked if Clinton's reluctance to fire Strider "gave him a platform to then go on and harass other women." Doyle replied in the affirmative: "I feel a great deal of regret that I didn't ... push harder for him to be fired."

Watch the interview below. Kelly O'Meara Morales

June 13, 2017

Reporters will reportedly no longer be allowed to tape interviews with lawmakers in the halls of the Capitol without prior permission, marking a departure from the usual order of business. Reporters have historically staked out hearings to get comments from senators.

NBC News' Kasie Hunt tweeted Tuesday that reporters are now being instructed to receive permission from the Senate Rules Committee and the senator before taping any interview:

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) was quick to question the Senate's rumored new rule, suggesting this is "maybe not the right moment to lower the secrecy veil on Congress":

The new limits were introduced amid Democrats' outrage over Senate Republicans' lack of transparency surrounding the GOP-backed health-care bill, the American Health Care Act, which is being negotiated behind closed doors and will not be discussed in an open hearing. Becca Stanek

May 1, 2017

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus admitted during a Sunday morning interview with ABC's Jonathan Karl that the Trump administration has "looked at" a constitutional amendment to free speech protections.

Karl sought to clarify President Trump's tweet that "the failing New York Times has disgraced the media world. Gotten me wrong for two solid years. Change the libel laws?" "That would require, as I understand it, a constitutional amendment," Karl said. "Is he really going to pursue that? Is that something he wants to pursue?"

"I think it's something we've looked at," Priebus replied in the affirmative. "How that gets executed, or whether that goes anywhere, is a different story."

As Talking Points Memo notes, it was not a slip of the tongue — Priebus repeats that "this is something that is being looked at" later in the interview as well.

"The changes President Trump wants are blocked by decades of jurisprudence which is little contested, unlike other hot button points of constitutional law," writes TPM's Josh Marshall. "If you want what Trump wants, you have to amend the Constitution — and not the Constitution in general but the First Amendment specifically. Amending the First Amendment to allow the head of state to sue people who say things he doesn't like amounts to abolishing it."

Watch the clip below. Jeva Lange

March 27, 2017
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The White House is denying that President Trump handed German Chancellor Angela Merkel a bill for over $350 billion when the two leaders met earlier this month, as the Times of London reports. Trump reportedly claimed the bill was for the money Germany owed NATO. The Times apparently learned of the bill from anonymous German officials, including one who described Trump's move as "outrageous."

"The concept behind putting out such demands is to intimidate the other side, but the chancellor took it calmly and will not respond to such provocations," the minister said.

NATO countries agree to spend two percent of their GDP on defense, although only the U.S., U.K., Greece, Poland, and Estonia are meeting those goals at this time. "It is believed that Mr. Trump's team calculated the amount Berlin has fallen short of the two percent target from that point then added interest," The Independent writes.

Former President Bill Clinton's secretary of labor, Robert Reich, tweeted in response to the news: "Trump is an international embarrassment. To our allies around the world: He doesn't represent most Americans, and we're doing all we can."

The White House denied Trump offered Merkel the bill. "This is not true," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told Business Insider.

Whether Trump handed Merkel the bill or not, there's no doubt their meeting was an awkward affair. Trump has additionally made a point of chasing down Germany for the money: "Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO and the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!" he tweeted. Jeva Lange

January 13, 2017
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A report published Thursday in the Isreali newspaper Yediot Ahronot suggested U.S. intelligence officials have warned Israeli officials to be wary about divulging information to President-elect Donald Trump's administration. American officials are apparently concerned that if Russia does indeed have "leverages of pressure" over Trump, sensitive information intended to be shared with the U.S. could end up in the wrong hands:

The Americans implied that their Israeli colleagues should "be careful" as of January 20, Trump's inauguration date, when transferring intelligence information to the White House and to the National Security Council (NSC), which is subject to the president. According to the Israelis who were present in the meeting, the Americans recommended that until it is made clear that Trump is not inappropriately connected to Russia and is not being extorted — Israel should avoid revealing sensitive sources to administration officials for fear the information would reach the Iranians. [Yediot Ahronot]

If the Kremlin's agents — who Yediot Ahronot noted have ties to intelligence officials in Tehran — were to pass information to Iran, it could pose a big threat to Israel's security, as U.S. and Israeli intelligence communities have been working closely for years.

Slate noted that while the story's reporter, Ronen Bergman, is "a prominent investigative journalist," the "sourcing on his story is vague and, as with nearly all the reporting so far about Trump's Russia ties, skepticism is warranted." If Bergman's report turns out to be true, Slate contended, it's likely Israel isn't the only ally U.S. officials have given this advice to.

For more on the story, head to Yediot Ahronot. Becca Stanek

October 26, 2016
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In the future, we might not watch TV on screens. It might be all in our heads.

That, at least, is the theory held by Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, The Telegraph reports. Hastings warned audiences at a Wall Street Journal event earlier this week that technology and entertainment have a funny way of making the mediums that came before go bust — for example, how cinema and TV have made "the opera and the novel" less appealing to consumers. Streaming, he said, could face the same fate.

"In 20 or 50 years, taking a personalized blue pill you just hallucinate in an entertaining way and then a white pill brings you back to normality is perfectly viable," Hastings said. "And if the source of human entertainment in 30 or 50 years is pharmacological, we'll be in real trouble."

Other tech billionaires, like Elon Musk and Sam Altman, think we're already living in a simulated universe. Life itself, they have alleged, could be one giant drug-induced hallucination, like it is in The Matrix. Jeva Lange

August 29, 2016
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Astronomers searching for life on other planets have picked up a "strong signal" that has the faintest chance of indicating an "extraterrestrial civilization," Ars Technica reports. The signal comes from the direction of a star about 95 light years from Earth, and has at least one nearby planet.

The star, HD 164595, is part of the constellation Hercules; the signal was discovered by the RATAN-600 radio telescope in Zelenchukskaya, Russia. "This is a bit of a puzzling story, as the Russians found this signal a year ago or so, but just didn't let others know," senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, told GeekWire.

"No one is claiming that this is the work of an extraterrestrial civilization, but it's certainly worth further study," Centauri Dreams blogger Pual Glister explained. He added that if the strength of the signal came from an isotropic beacon, it would only be possible for a Kardashev Type II civilization — one capable of harnessing the energy from a star.

"The possibility of noise of one form or another cannot be ruled out ... but the signal is provocative enough that the RATAN-600 researchers are calling for permanent monitoring of this target," Glister went on.

Texas A&M University astronomer Nick Suntzeff said people should curb their expectations, though. "I would follow it if I were the astronomers, but I would also not hype the fact that it may be at SETI signal given the significant chance it could be something military," he told Ars Technica. Jeva Lange