March 17, 2015

The U.S. Defense Department cannot account for more than $500 million in U.S. military aid to Yemen, and officials are worried that small arms, ammunition, patrol boats, vehicles, and other equipment might end up in the hands of al-Qaeda or Iranian-backed rebels.

In January, Yemen's government was toppled by Houthi rebels, who have also taken over several military bases in the northern part of the country that were home to U.S.-trained counterterrorism units, The Washington Post reports, and it became even harder to keep track of things in the country once the U.S. embassy closed in February.

A defense official speaking on the condition of anonymity told the Post there's no evidence the arms or equipment are in the wrong hands, but did confirm that the Pentagon has lost track of the items. The U.S. government had limited its lethal aid to small firearms and ammunition, ignoring requests from Yemen for fighter jets and tanks, and stopped $125 million worth of shipments to Yemen that were scheduled for delivery this year, the defense official said; drones, Jeeps, and aircraft were instead donated to countries in Africa and the Middle East. Catherine Garcia

6:55 a.m.

Republicans for the Rule of Law, an organization led by Bill Kristol that describes itself as a "group of life-long Republicans dedicated to defending the institutions of our republic and upholding the rule of law," is taking aim at Vice President Mike Pence in an ad debuting on Thursday's Morning Joe on MSNBC. The ad accuses Pence of hypocrisy for criticizing the Clintons for taking foreign money while saying nothing about President Trump's open pockets for Saudi cash. The group is spending $20,000 to air the tough-love ad, USA Today reports, and its rebuke of Pence is more in sorrow than anger.

Why pick on Pence? "It's pretty clear that President Trump isn't going to listen," explained Chris Truax, a spokesman for Republicans for the Rule of Law. "Vice President Pence might listen."

Pence's chief of staff, Marc Short, shrugged off the ad as a bit of #NeverTrump irrelevance. "Without free promotion by anti-Trump press, no one would even know they still existed," he said in a statement. But many members of the group would have once considered themselves Pence Republicans, and some still regard the vice president fondly. One member of the group's board of directors, Peter Rusthoven, is from Pence's home state of Indiana. Pence officiated his remarriage. He didn't participate in making the ad.

"I have had an affection for him and admired many of the things he has said and done," but the ad makes "a legitimate point," Rusthoven told USA Today. "Choices have consequences for everyone. One is, he's in this situation now. And it will inevitably affect how people look at him. That's just part of the deal." Peter Weber

5:54 a.m.

Last week's Democratic president debate has "shaken up the race just a little bit," because according to a new poll, "Elizabeth Warren is closing in on Joe Biden," Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday's Late Show. Warren is "down just 6 points," while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) "has fallen into a distant third place," he said. "Since July, he's seen an increase of just 1 percent — yet another reason for Bernie to hate the 1 percent."

"For all their difference, the three Democratic frontrunners do have one thing in common: They are all old enough to get discount tickets to see Hustlers this weekend," Colbert said, imagining Sanders setting up that date. "Warren is 70, Biden is 76, and Bernie is 78, and people are naturally wondering: Is that too old to be president?" Former President Jimmy Carter, now 95, suggested that at least Bernie might be aging out of the job.

"According to reports, Bernie Sanders' campaign is in complete disarray, and campaign workers say it's unorganized and total chaos," Jimmy Fallon said at The Tonight Show. "Basically, if the campaign were a person, it would look like Bernie Sanders."

"You may remember that when Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced that she was exploring a presidential run at the end of 2018, many pundits proclaimed her candidacy dead on arrival because she had supposedly missed her moment," Seth Meyers said at Late Night. Now the pundit buzzword for Warren is "surging." He showed part of her big anti-corruption speech and suggested her message is resonating with voters.

President Trump openly bragging about being funded by the Saudis "is the kind of corruption that has been institutionalized in Washington for years, it's just that Trump came along and made it worse and more obvious," Meyers said. "It's also blatantly illegal and unconstitutional," yet "the same pundits who speculated wildly about Warren missing her moment are the same ones now insisting that impeaching a lawless, corrupt president could hurt Democrats." Watch below. Peter Weber

4:37 a.m.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday night that a phone call between President Trump and a foreign leader "included a 'promise' that was regarded as so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. intelligence community to file a formal whistleblower complaint," leading to a standoff between Congress and the acting director of national intelligence. Two of the three major cable news networks had some big questions on Wednesday night. On MSNBC, it was: Who is this leader?

"If you look through the White House records, Trump had interactions with about four or five foreign leaders in the weeks leading up to this complaint," Washington Post reporter Greg Miller told Brian Williams. "Perhaps the most relevant one is a late-July, end-of-July conversation with Vladimir Putin, in which the White House readout was very different from the Russian readout afterward." Former U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul had a similar thought.

"I think it's safe to say that the speculation is going to center on Putin and on Kim Jong Un," Miller said, and "there almost undoubtedly is a record of this call."

Phil Mudd, a former CIA counterintelligence official, was hopping mad, asking CNN's Chris Cuomo "why it's the U.S. intelligence community's responsibility to listen to the president of the United States speaking to a foreign leader," and why Congress needs to know? "So you don't like that somebody snitched on the president?" Cuomo asked. "Correct," Mudd said. The whistleblower law is supposed to be for in-house policing, and the president "can say what he wants to Putin, he can say what he wants to Kim Jong Un," he said. If you don't like it, "you quit."

Post reporter Carol Leonnig told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that the whistleblower is an intelligence official who used to work in the White House, but cautioned that Trump talks to lots of foreign leaders and some of the calls are reportedly off the record. Still, she said, Trump's alleged abuse is "serious, it's not a small thing." Watch below. Peter Weber

2:46 a.m.

"Everyone can breathe easy," Stephen Colbert joked on Wednesday's Late Show. Because President Trump has finally replaced John Bolton in the critical role of "future former national security adviser."

Trump announced that he has selected State Department hostage negotiator Robert O'Brien in Los Angeles, "which explains why the guy looks like the second male lead on Suits," Colbert said. "So that's interesting — he hired a hostage negotiator, someone who is known to talk madmen down from the brink. That will come in handy."

Still, "hostage negotiator doesn't seem like a natural résumé for national security adviser, so what possibly brought him to Trump's attention at this critical juncture?" Colbert asked. First, "Trump sent him as a special envoy to A$AP Rocky's Swedish assault trial. I did not realize that A$AP Rocky was being held hostage! What was Sweden asking for in return? Mamma Mia 3?" And also, as Trump himself noted yesterday, O'Brien once called him "the greatest hostage negotiator in history," Colbert noted. "Oh, I would love to see Hostage Negotiator Trump."

But Colbert was essentially right about O'Brien's selling points. Trump had "narrowed his shortlist for the post to Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg and O'Brien, but the envoy's high-profile work to help free A$AP Rocky ... was a key factor in Trump's decision to name him to the post," Yahoo News reports — though "family members of American hostages," The Washington Post adds, "were furious when O'Brien spent a week in Sweden monitoring the trial" when he could have been working to free actual hostages.

O'Brien also published a book in 2016 criticizing former President Barack Obama's foreign policy as weak, and he has heaped praise on Trump during televised hostage-release ceremonies. "His physical appearance did not hurt, either," The New York Times reports. "Whereas Mr. Trump was known to grouse about Mr. Bolton's famous bushy mustache, the president has been taken with Mr. O'Brien's well-tailored looks and easy demeanor, and thinks he 'looks the part,' as one person close to the president said."

1:02 a.m.

President Trump on Tuesday said that when it comes to the issue of homelessness in California, the government will "be doing something about it at the appropriate time." The time must not be now, and the plan must not involve money, as the state's requests for federal help were rejected by Trump and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on Wednesday.

In a letter sent to Trump earlier this week, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and several mayors asked for federal help to get more people off the streets immediately and into housing. Carson responded by sending his own letter — written, he said, at the direction of Trump — that stated the "hardworking American taxpayers" shouldn't have to fund this. Carson claimed California is over-regulating the housing market, and also accused the state of undercutting "the ability of police officers to enforce quality-of-life laws, remove encampments, and connect our most vulnerable populations with supportive services they need."

On Wednesday night, Trump brought up the topic of homelessness in California again, telling reporters on Air Force One that used needles are going into storm drains and then emptying into the ocean. The Environmental Protection Agency will soon send San Francisco a notice, he added, saying the city is in "total violation" of an unspecified environmental law. "EPA is going to be putting out a notice," he said. "They're in serious violation. ... They have to clean it up. We can't have our cities going to hell." Catherine Garcia

12:58 a.m.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his close personal relationship with President Trump a centerpiece of his just-concluded election campaign, even picturing the two leaders together on campaign billboards. Trump apparently doesn't see it that way.

The election did not go well for Netanyahu. Trump told reporters on Wednesday that he hasn't spoken with the Israeli leader since the vote, adding, "Our relations are with Israel, so we'll see what happens."

In the election, Netanyahu fell far short of his goal of a 61-seat parliamentary majority — with 90 percent of votes tallied, his conservative Likud party has 32 seats, versus 33 for challenger Benny Gantz's centrist Blue and White Party. Some Israeli commentators are writing Netanyahu's political obituary, and even if he is able to cobble together a governing coalition or power-sharing agreement, he's now unlikely to get the immunity from three pending corruption charges he was hoping a majority government would grant him.

For Trump, that all smells like weakness, and he wants little to do with a "loser," Dan Shapiro, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, tells The Washington Post. An Israeli official concurred, telling the Post: "Yes, he is friends with Bibi, but he also likes winners and he does want to move his peace plan forward no matter who the prime minister is." Aaron David Miller, a longtime U.S. adviser on Mideast issues, said Trump doesn't think he needs Netanyahu to please Jewish Republicans and Israel-fixated evangelical Christian voters. "Trump only cares about one election, and it's not Benjamin Netanyahu's," Miller said.

Trump liked that Netanyahu was a political "survivor" and viewed him as a partner in undermining former President Barack Obama's legacy, people who've talked Israeli politics with Trump told the Post. But he differed with Netanyahu about whether any deal with Iran is good — Netanyahu doesn't think so, Trump believes he can make a better deal than Obama. And he might be able to do that better with another Israeli in power. Peter Weber

12:22 a.m.

Slowly but surely, the coral reefs in Jamaica are making a comeback.

In the 1980s and '90s, Jamaica lost 85 percent of its coral reefs due to hurricanes, overfishing, and water pollution that caused algae and seaweed to take over. Coral sustains one-quarter of all marine species, and as the reefs disappeared in Jamaica, so did the fish.

To revive the reefs, at least 12 organizations have launched "coral nurseries" underwater, where pieces of staghorn coral are tied to suspended ropes, slowly growing until they reach the size of a human hand, The Associated Press reports. Then, those pieces are taken to reefs and tied to rocks, where the limestone skeleton ultimately becomes attached. The groups have had great success restoring sections of different reefs through this process.

Thanks to the hard work of coral gardeners, as well as the volunteers who patrol the nurseries and fish sanctuaries to stop illegal fishing, the reefs are growing and the fish populations are increasing. "When you give nature a chance, she can repair herself," marine biologist Stuart Sandin told AP. "It's not too late." Catherine Garcia

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