May 12, 2017

By Thursday, the White House's original explanation for why President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey — he just followed the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — was defunct, despite White House officials like Vice President Mike Pence and Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders standing by it until Thursday, when Trump himself threw that rationale out the window. "Oh, I was gonna fire regardless of recommendation," Trump told NBC News' Lester Holt.

Trump went on to suggest that the FBI's investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and the Russian government, which Comey was leading, played at least some part in his decision. "Regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it," Trump said. "And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won."

After Trump explained his theory that it is very hard for Republicans to win the Electoral College, he said he knew firing Comey in the middle of the Russia investigation might "confuse people," he wants the investigation "to be absolutely done properly," and he'd considered the idea to "expand that, you know, lengthen the time — because it should be over with, in my opinion, should have been over with a long time ago." Trump decided not to "lengthen out the investigation," he said, because "I have to do the right thing for the American people."

Huckabee Sanders, whose job it is to clarify White House positions, did her best at Thursday afternoon's press briefing. "We want this to come to its conclusion, we want it to come to its conclusion with integrity," she said of the investigation. "And we think that we've actually, by removing Director Comey, taken steps to make that happen."

CNN called that "a surprising admission from the White House that Comey's sudden dismissal on Tuesday may have an effect on the Russia probe." Typically, the White House firing an FBI director investigating the president or his associates, with the stated reason that it would hasten the end of that investigation, would be frowned upon in legal circles. Peter Weber

8:09 a.m.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin promised several senators in his confirmation hearing that he would prioritize sexual assault prevention within the military in his new role, and it appears he's attempting to follow through quickly.

Per The Associated Press, Austin issued his first directive as Pentagon chief Saturday night, giving his senior leaders two weeks to gather reports on sexual assault prevention programs in the military and send him assessment of what has worked and what hasn't. "This is a leadership issue," he reportedly wrote in a two-page memo. "We will lead."

The move comes a day after he was confirmed by the Senate. The retired four-star Army general acknowledged in his Senate hearing and in the memo that the military must do a better job of handling a problem that has long existed within its ranks, and he told officials not to be "afraid to get creative" in finding ways to approach the issue.

Reports of sexual assault in the military have steadily increased since 2006, AP notes, including a 13 percent jump in 2018 and a 3 percent jump in 2019 (the data for 2020 is not yet available.) Experts believe sexual assaults remain underreported, though there's some hope that victims have grown more confident in the justice system. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

January 23, 2021

Norman Ornstein, a political scientist and emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has been critical of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) over the years, but he recently told The New Yorker's Jane Meyer that he was pleasantly surprised by how the senator has responded to former President Donald Trump in the wake of the deadly riot at the United States Capitol on Jan. 6. McConnell's comments have been "more forthright than I expected," Ornstein said. "Good for him!"

Still, he doesn't consider the split with Trump a "genuine moral reckoning," Meyer writes. "There is no way that McConnell has had an epiphany and will now change his fundamental approach," Ornstein said. "He will always act ruthlessly when it serves his own interest."

Other sources agreed, telling Meyer that McConnell's partnership with Trump was always self-serving. "Three years ago, I said he'd wait until Trump was an existential threat to the" GOP and "then cut him loose," Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), who has known McConnell for decades, said. "He's been furious with Trump for a long time. Many who know him have talked about how much he hates Trump." It was the promise of Republican judicial appointments that kept McConnell on board, Yarmuth said.

McConnell also kept quiet for weeks while Trump pushed unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud in the presidential election because the Georgia Senate runoffs were still at stake, a former Trump administration official told Meyer.

Chistopher Browning, a historian, suggested that McConnell was mostly freed up by Trump's defeat, which "opened an escape hatch" for him. "If Trump had won the election, Mitch would not be jumping ship," he said. Read more at The New Yorker. Tim O'Donnell

January 23, 2021

President Biden reeled in a record-breaking $145 million in so-called dark money from anonymous donors during his presidential campaign, topping the $113 million that went to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) before his failed presidential bid in 2012, Bloomberg reports.

It's not surprising that Biden set the mark given that the $1.5 billion he hauled in overall was the most ever for a challenger to an incumbent president, but it's notable in large part because Democrats have been at the forefront of a movement to ban dark money in politics since it means that supporters can back a candidate without scrutiny. Plus, Bloomberg notes, anonymous donors "will have the same access to decision makers as those whose names were disclosed, but without public awareness of who they are or what influence they might wield." As Meredith McGehee, the executive director of campaign finance reform advocacy group Issue One, told Bloomberg, "the whole point of dark money is to avoid public disclosure while getting private credit."

Still, it seems the Democratic Party was willing to embrace the strategy in the hopes of defeating former President Donald Trump, who only brought in $28.4 million from anonymous donors. Read more at Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

January 23, 2021

It's not unusual for China to conduct military flights between the southern part of Taiwan — which it claims as its territory — and the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands in the South China Sea, Reuters reports. In fact, the flights have occurred on a daily basis in recent months. But what happened Saturday does appear out of the ordinary.

Eight nuclear-capable Chinese bombers and four fighter jets entered the southwestern corner of Taiwan's air defense identifications zone, Taiwan's defense ministry said. Normally, China deploys just one or two reconnaissance aircraft at a time, so Saturday's event was somewhat startling. Taiwan's air force was able to warn the aircraft away and deployed missiles to monitor them.

While there's been no word from Beijing yet, the seemingly aggressive move comes at a time when tensions between China and the United States are rising, with Washington's strengthening support for Taiwan playing a significant role. The Trump administration, which left office last week, was particularly committed to a closer relationship with Taiwan, and the Biden administration doesn't appear likely to reverse course on the issue, at least not drastically. Read more at Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

January 23, 2021

Former President Donald Trump worked with a Justice Department lawyer, Jeffrey Clark, on a plan to oust former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and have Clark replace him, The New York Times reports. The strategy reportedly stemmed from the fact that Rosen had rebuffed Trump's pleas to use the Justice Department's power to cast doubt on and ultimately overturn Georgia's presidential election results, though it likely would have been unsuccessful in achieving the latter goal.

Regardless, Trump reportedly held a meeting that two officials compared to an episode of The Apprentice because he had Rosen and Clark — who denies devising any plan to oust Rosen — make their separate cases to him. Rosen eventually won out after nearly three hours, the Times reports, largely due to an informal pact among other Justice Department officials who unanimously decided to resign should Rosen get dismissed. In addition to potential chaos at the Justice Department, though, Trump was also reportedly swayed by the idea that firing Rosen could lead to congressional investigations and recriminations from other Republicans. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

January 23, 2021

Russian police have reportedly detained more than 1,000 people across the country who took to the streets in support of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, a top rival of Russian President Vladimir Putin who was detained last week when he returned to Moscow from Berlin, where he had spent months recovering from a poisoning allegedly carried out by Russia's FSB spy agency. He was handed a 30-day jail term.

Among those reportedly detained at Saturday's rallies was Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalnaya, who had previously said she's been under surveillance since her husband's arrest. She posted a picture of herself inside a police van to her Instagram account, while CNN reports a video on social media shows her being stopped by officers at the entrance to a metro station in Moscow and led to the van. Lyubov Sobol, a prominent activist and lawyer for Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, was also reportedly detained, per Deutsche Welle.

The demonstrations began in the eastern Russian city of Vladivostok and spread west throughout the day, with protesters in some cities bracing frigid temperatures.

Reuters estimates 40,000 people gathered in central Moscow, where mass arrests reportedly began before the protest officially started, DW reports.

Still, the demonstrators remained on the street for what appears to be one of the largest anti-Putin rallies in years. Read more at Deutsche Welle and CNN. Tim O'Donnell

January 23, 2021

Larry King, the longtime radio and television broadcaster, died Saturday morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, his production studio and television network, Ora Media, announced. He was 87. No cause of death was given, but CNN previously reported that King had been hospitalized with COVID-19 earlier this month.

King is perhaps best-known for his 25-year run hosting CNN's nightly Larry King Live, which ran from 1985 to 2010, though he continued working after that.

The Associated Press estimates King conducted somewhere around 50,000 on-air interviews, which included guests from all walks of life. Per AP, he claimed he never prepared for his interviews, delivering them in a non-confrontational style that "relaxed his guests," many of whom reportedly sought out his show because of his "middle-of-the-road" stance. The statement from Ora Media said King "always viewed his interview subjects as the true stars of his programs, and himself as merely an unbiased conduit between the guest and the audience." Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

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