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January 25, 2017

Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) confirmed Wednesday during an interview on CNN that she did meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on a recent "fact finding" trip to Syria. Gabbard said she did not initially plan on meeting with Assad, but took the opportunity when it arose because of her concern for the Syrian people. She claims she talked about "peace" with Assad, and also noted that she learned from the people of Syria that "there are no moderate rebels."

CNN's Jake Tapper pressed Gabbard on whether she had any hesitations meeting with a man "responsible for thousands of deaths and millions of people being displaced during this five-year-long civil war," and specifically whether she had considered that meeting with Assad as a member of Congress may give him "enhanced credibility." "Whatever you think about President Assad, the fact is that he is the president of Syria," Gabbard said. "In order for any peace agreement ... there has to be a conversation with him."

Gabbard followed up her remarks on CNN with a statement released Wednesday reiterating her concern for ending the war. Foreign Policy noted earlier this month that Gabbard's trip was "exceedingly rare," while Politico's Jake Sherman pointed out that Gabbard is "277th in seniority in the House," which "has limited influence in foreign policy." House leadership was apparently not aware of Gabbard's trip.

Some reporters have questioned whether Gabbard's meeting may have violated the Logan Act, which prohibits any citizen "without authority of the United States" from "any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof ... in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States." Becca Stanek

12:30 p.m.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the subject of a wide-ranging interview published in the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, touching upon tensions with Iran, Saudi Arabia's economic future, and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Here are three key moments.

Blame game — The crown prince joined the U.S. in blaming Iran for recent attacks against oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, which Tehran has vehemently denied. He also said that, while Riyadh does not seek war with Iran, he will not hesitate to to "deal with any threat" to Saudi Arabia's sovereignty.

Veiled attack — Prince Mohammed also warned against "exploiting" the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi for political gains in what Al Jazeera writes was likely a veiled attack against Turkey, where Khashoggi was killed (those accused of the crime are Saudi government officials.) However, the crown prince added that he wants to maintain strong relations with Ankara.

Aramco is good to go — The prince said that Aramco, Saudi Arabia's national petroleum and gas company, is set to go through with an initial public offering as soon as next year, though it remains unclear where the stock will trade. The prince projected the companies value at about $2 trillion. The decision is reportedly part of Saudi Arabia's plan to diversify its economy and boost employment in new industries. Tim O'Donnell

11:47 a.m.

A massive blackout swept through all of Argentina and Uruguay on Sunday morning after an unexplained electrical failure in the Argentina network knocked out the interconnected system. Parts of Paraguay were also affected, BBC reports, while Al Jazeera writes that the outage also reportedly extends to parts of Brazil and Chile.

Argentine media reports that the country's trains have been halted. "Never has anything like this happened before," Alejandra Martinez, a spokesperson for electricity company Edesur Argentina said.

Edesur said power has been restored to 75,000 clients in parts of Buenos Aires and that two of the capital's airports were operating on generators. Argentina's energy secretary, Gustavo Lopetegui, also said power was being restored in some parts of the country but that the process could take several hours.

The outage occurred as people in several parts of Argentina were making their way to voting polls for local elections.

The combined population of Argentina and Uruguay is about 48 million people. Tim O'Donnell

11:03 a.m.

Boeing is reportedly attempting to cut hours off airborne testing for its new 777X airplane by using computer models to simulate flight conditions before presenting the results to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for certification, two people with direct knowledge of the strategy told Reuters, who was not able to confirm when Boeing decided to move forward with the plan.

The move would reportedly slash high development costs associated with physical safety testing, but it remains to be seen whether the FAA would allow the company to eliminate some of the physical tests. Boeing is currently the subject of probes by regulators and U.S. lawmakers after two of its 737 Max airplanes crashed in Ethiopia and Indonesia after a stall prevention software failure. The investigations could potentially throw Boeing's reported plans into jeopardy if they result in even more rigorous safety requirements, Reuters reports.

Five people familiar with the matter told Reuters that Boeing believes new technology and decades of testing experience have rendered some physical tests redundant for demonstrating safety. Read more at Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

8:35 a.m.

President Trump is angry at The New York Times once again.

The newspaper reported on Saturday that the U.S. has enacted a more aggressive approach when it comes to cyber attacks on Russia's electric power grid. The Times conducted interviews over a three month period in which current and former officials described the previously unreported deployment of American computer code inside Russia's grid and other targets. The actions are reportedly seen as a warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Two administration officials told the Times that they do not believe President Trump has been briefed about the new digital incursion strategy, while Pentagon and intelligence officials told the newspaper that they were concerned about how the president would react to the news. They also reportedly feared he would reverse the operations or discuss the classified information with foreign officials.

Trump has denied the story, even calling it a "virtual act of treason". Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

7:52 a.m.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators returned to the streets in Hong Kong on Sunday to protest a proposed extradition bill that would allow extradition to mainland China. The rally reportedly looks like it could reach the scale of last Sunday's protests, for which around 1 million people gathered.

The protesters were also calling for Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down, despite their understanding that she had little choice but to carry out orders from Beijing, The Associated Press reports.

Lam, reportedly with the backing of Beijing, announced on Saturday that she was suspending the extradition legislation after the protests turned violent during the week, but those opposed to the bill want it scrapped entirely. They fear the law would subject criminal suspects to possible torture and unfair trials if they are sent to China. Generally speaking, the protesters believe the bill is in conflict with Hong Kong's judicial independence and contributes to the territory's eroding freedoms. Tim O'Donnell

June 15, 2019

Tibor Nagy, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, on Friday called for an "independent and credible" investigation into the violence waged by Sudan's paramilitary security forces when they stormed a protest camp in the country's capital, Khartoum, earlier in June, The Associated Press reports.

Sudan's ruling military council, which recently ousted former autocratic President Omar al-Bashir, said it plans to announce the findings of its own investigation on Saturday. Protest organizers say over 100 people were killed by the security forces, while state authorities said the death toll was 61.

Nagy's stance echoes that of the protesters, who are hoping for an internationally-backed probe into the crackdown. The military council, which admitted that it ordered the dispersal of the sit-in, rejected that idea, as did Sudan's chief prosecutor.

Nagy added that he supports the mediation efforts by the African Union and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, but did not say whether Washington would take any measures if the situation worsens. Tim O'Donnell

June 15, 2019

One might recall President Trump declaring in an April speech that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a 2020 presidential candidate, was "finished." Now, though, Trump's re-election campaign team considers Warren a legitimate threat and is reportedly ready to make her a target, Politico reports, based on conversations with multiple Trump advisers.

Trump aides and their allies at the Republican National Committee are reportedly digging up opposition research and deploying camera-wielding trackers in the hopes of halting Warren's momentum. They also reportedly plan to label her a "liberal extremist." Trump's advisers are reportedly concerned by Warren's disciplined style mixed with "populist-infused" speeches and her potential ability to win over suburban female voters.

The change in tune doesn't mean the Trump campaign won't continue to focus its energy on the current frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, as well, Politico reports; but they're just less certain he'll face off against the president in the general election now.

Warren's prospects looked rough out of the gate, but the senator has polled well recently and has even surpassed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), long considered Biden's top challenger, in some of the latest tallies. Tim O'Donnell

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