May 19, 2014

Diehard conspiracy theorists are planning to confront visitors to the new 9/11 memorial in New York City with their alternate take on the terror attack, according to The Village Voice. Their plan: to gaslight visitors with fake brochures.

When the museum opens to the public on Wednesday, volunteers for the group Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth will distribute the mock brochures in hopes of convincing people the site is an "elaborate, taxpayer-funded, public relations campaign to forever cement the fantastic claims of the official conspiracy theory into the history books." Stylistically, the brochures are almost identical to the official ones the museum will distribute, but with some notable changes. Take a look. --Jon Terbush

(Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth)
5:48 a.m.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, died Thursday due to "complications concerning longstanding health challenges," his office said in a statement. He was 68. He gained prominence as chair of one of three House committees overseeing the impeachment inquiry of President Trump, though the two had clashed over the summer when Trump insulted Cummings' home city of Baltimore and said four congresswomen of color should "go back" to other countries.

Cummings' office did not disclose the nature of his health problems, but the congressman had been in Johns Hopkins Hospital when he died, and he had faced health challenges since at least 2017, when he underwent a minimally invasive heart procedure that led to an infection, The Baltimore Sun reports. He used a wheelchair to get around and a walker when he stood, but said over the summer that his health was fine.

Cummings was first elected to the House in 1995. Before that, he had served in the Maryland state Assembly since 1982, becoming the first African American speaker pro tem. Born in 1951, Cummings was one of seven children. His parents, Robert Cummings Sr. and Ruth Elma Cummings, were sharecroppers until the late 1940s, when they moved to Baltimore, where Cummings was raised and continued to live until his death. Cummings struggled in elementary school but went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science from Howard University and a law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law. His wife, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, was elected chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party last year. Peter Weber

5:21 a.m.

"President Trump had a very difficult day today," Jimmy Kimmel said on Wednesday's Kimmel Live. "He had a meeting with Democrats at the White House, he lashed out at Nancy Pelosi" and had what the House speaker described as "a meltdown — which, is it even really a meltdown anymore? Trump didn't have a meltdown, he had a Wednesday. There's nothing left to melt." Nevertheless, he added, "the president doesn't this idea the people know he had a meltdown, so he tweeted a photo from the meeting," Kimmel said. That didn't go well, either.

The meeting was supposed to be about Syria, Kimmel said, and "Trump now is stuck," facing strong bipartisan blowback because "he basically gave the president of Turkey a green light to kill these people we promised to protect," the Kurds, but he won't admit he's wrong. "So today he tried to do damage control," he said. "The White House released a letter — this is a letter written by Trump to his strongman buddy President Erdogan — and I'm not sure what this was supposed to prove, other than he's crazy, but this is a real letter from the president of the United States, we did not alter this in any way."

Kimmel read through the letter, adding some commentary, then noted that Trump sent it on Oct. 9, and "Erdogan immediately sent his tanks across the border, so it was insane and ineffective, which is the art of the deal." He imagined JFK writing a similar letter to the Soviet premier during the Cuban missile crisis. Watch below. Peter Weber

4:43 a.m.

Few Americans had ever heard of Gordon Sondland, a wealthy Oregon hotelier who donated $1 million to President Trump's inauguration and was then appointed U.S. ambassador to the European Union, before he became a central figure in Trump's Ukraine scandal and impeachment inquiry. Sondland, 62, is scheduled to be deposed by House impeachment investigators on Thursday.

A former Trump adviser has already testified that she viewed Sondland's inexperience and missteps as a national security risk, but according to friends and former White House officials, Sondland had been extremely eager to leverage his political donations into an ambassadorship. And once he arrived in Brussels in June 2018, "he got addicted," one former official told The Washington Post. "The way you're treated as a senior U.S. official, there's nothing like it in terms of adrenaline and ego boost."

Sondland was not, however, satisfied with the U.S. ambassador's residence. After unsuccessfully pushing for a new residence, the Post reports, he began proposing upgrades to the existing manor, and now he's "overseeing a nearly $1 million renovation of his government-provided residence, paid for with taxpayer money" and apparently "driven by Sondland's lavish tastes rather than practical needs."

The renovation includes $209,000 to upgrade the "professional kitchen," $223,000 to build an additional "family kitchen," nearly $30,000 for a new sound system, and $95,000 for an outdoor "living pod" featuring a pergola and electric heating, the Post reports, citing procurement records. The State Department also allocated more than $100,000 to house Sondland in an "alternate" residence in September and October.

The State Department defended the remodel, calling it part of a "regular 17-year cycle of reviewing and refreshing furnishings and interior décor in representational residences," and a person who has spoken with Sondland told the Post that the residence was "deteriorated and nearly unusable for representational purposes." One person with extensive knowledge of the residence before Sondland's arrival called that assessment "bulls--t," adding, "The house was in excellent condition."

The U.S. ambassador to the EU does host some events and working meetings, but most U.S. diplomatic events in Brussels are held at Whitlock Hall, the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Belgium. Peter Weber

2:29 a.m.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Wednesday afternoon that President Trump had a "meltdown" during a White House meeting. "Historians will record that within the White House it took several hours for a damage control plan to mature," Lupe "Southpaw" Luppen tweeted: "The president would say exactly what the speaker had said about him, but about her." To wit:

But Trump's I'm-rubber-and-you're-glue pushback peaked with a photo he posted of Pelosi literally standing up to him at the meeting, captioned: "Nervous Nancy's unhinged meltdown!" Not many other people saw it that way.

"Looks more like the second most powerful person in the country owning the room," said historian Joshua Zeitz. "She seems calmer than him, [to be honest]," tweeted the Houston Chronicle's Erica Grieder. "Nobody does projection better — or more predictably," tweeted conservative pundit Matt Lewis. Fellow conservative David Frum noted: "The people on the president's side of the table seem profoundly fascinated by their thumbs." Civil liberties journalist Marcy Wheeler observed: "I see Trump's meltdown came because a woman (one of maybe 3 in the room) scolded him in front of a bunch of men who've never had the courage to do so."

Former President Barack Obama's White House photographer Pete Souza simply thanked the White House for posting such an "awesome photo of Speaker Pelosi." Pelosi seemed to agree. She made the photo her Twitter banner. Peter Weber

1:37 a.m.

Congressional leaders met with President Trump at the White House to discuss the mess in Syria on Wednesday, and it didn't go well. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Trump had a "meltdown" and she was praying for his health. Using his patented I'm-rubber-you're-glue strategy, Trump responded that Pelosi had an "unhinged meltdown" — posting a photo that didn't appear to have the intended effect — and tweeted "Pray for her."

The 20-minute meeting started with Trump saying he didn't want to be there, The New York Times reports, citing several Democratic officials and noting that "the White House did not dispute their accounts." Trump brought up a bizarre letter he sent to Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, claiming his "nasty" missive shows he didn't green-light Turkey's invasion of Syria. Pelosi noted that the House had just overwhelmingly condemned Trump's decision to withdraw the handful of U.S. troops that had been keeping Turkey at bay.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) started to read Trump a quote from his former defense secretary, James Mattis, at which point Trump called Mattis "the world's most overrated general" because "he wasn't tough enough" and "I captured ISIS" faster than he'd said was possible. Pelosi said Russia has long sought a "foothold in the Middle East" and he had just given Russian President Vladimir Putin such an opening, adding: "All roads with you lead to Putin." That's when the already-tense meeting "reached a fever pitch," the Times reports.

The Associated Press recounts the next few exchanges:

Trump: "I hate ISIS more than you do."

Pelosi: "You don't know that."

Schumer: "Is your plan to rely on the Syrians and the Turks?"

Trump: "Our plan is to keep the American people safe."

Pelosi: "That's not a plan. That's a goal."

After Trump called Pelosi either a "third-rate" or "third-grade" politician, House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said "this is not useful," and the Democrats walked out. Trump said: "Goodbye, we'll see you at the polls." White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said of the meeting: "The president was measured, factual, and decisive, while Speaker Pelosi's decision to walk out was baffling, but not surprising." Peter Weber

1:32 a.m.

In the early 20th century, hunting almost entirely wiped out the southwest Atlantic humpback whale, but scientists say it appears that the population has almost fully recovered.

There are seven different humpback populations in the southern hemisphere, and it's believed that before they were almost hunted to extinction, there were 27,000 southwest Atlantic humpback whales in the ocean, BBC News reports. The southwest Atlantic humpback whales spend their winters off the coast of Brazil and travel to sub-Antarctic and Antarctic waters during the summer to feed off krill.

Humpback whales became protected in the 1960s, and Dr. Alex Zerbini of the National Marine Fisheries Service told BBC News the populations weren't measured until the 1980s. Scientists have since been documenting the southwest Atlantic humpback whales, surveying them by ship and plane, and at the start of the 2000s, "we realized just how well they were recovering," Zerbini said. It's estimated there are now nearly 25,000 of these whales in the world, which is a "positive story," Zerbini said. Catherine Garcia

12:54 a.m.

The Marine Corps on Wednesday confirmed the suspicions of three historians who believed that one of the six men in the famed photo of a U.S. flag being raised over Iwo Jima had been misidentified.

One of the most recognizable photos from World War II, the picture earned Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal a Pulitzer Prize. It was snapped during the second flag raising on Mount Suribachi — the first flag was deemed too small, and a larger one was put up a few hours later.

Historians Stephen Foley, Dustin Spence, and Brent Westemeyer studied film footage and pictures taken by soldiers on Iwo Jima, and decided that the person identified in the famous photo as Pfc. Rene Gagnon was actually Cpl. Harold "Pie" Keller, a Purple Heart recipient from Iowa. The Marine Corps told NBC News on Wednesday that investigators from the FBI's Digital Evidence Laboratory have concluded that the historians were correct.

The Marine Corps said in a statement Gagnon was responsible for "returning the first flag for safe keeping," and regardless of who appears in the photograph, "each and every Marine who set foot on Iwo Jima, or supported the effort from the sea and air around the island is, and always will be, a part of our Corps' cherished history." Keller's daughter Kay Maurer told NBC News the family was shocked to learn he was in the picture, as her father "never spoke about any of this when we were growing up." Both Keller and Gagnon died in 1979. Catherine Garcia

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