×
November 13, 2017

Local officials in Raqqa apparently negotiated and agreed to the escape of thousands of ISIS fighters in exchange for an end to fighting in the former ISIS capital, the BBC reported Monday. The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of American-backed Kurdish and Syrian fighters, apparently hired local truck drivers to smuggle ISIS fighters out of Raqqa and told the drivers that they would be transporting families that had been displaced by fighting in Syria.

"We didn't want anyone to leave," Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the Western coalition against ISIS, told the BBC. "It comes down to Syrians — they are the ones fighting and dying, they get to make the decisions regarding operations." One of the truck drivers tasked with transporting the expelled ISIS fighters said the militants "booby-trapped our trucks. If something were to go wrong in the deal, they would bomb the entire convoy. Even their children and women had suicide belts on."

During the drive out of Raqqa, some drivers were beaten and threatened by the jihadists, who reportedly told them, "Let us know when you rebuild Raqqa — we will come back." Drivers who spoke to the BBC said that they have not yet been paid by the SDF.

Former ISIS intelligence chief Abu Musab Huthaifa told the BBC that thousands of ISIS fighters escaped Raqqa and had spread beyond Syria. A French ISIS fighter now in Idlib, a Syria city near the Turkish border, told the BBC, "There are some French brothers from our group who left for France to carry out attacks in what would be called a 'day of reckoning.'"

Read the full account of ISIS's escape from Raqqa at the BBC. Kelly O'Meara Morales

12:05 p.m.

The director of The Hunt is speaking out after a firestorm led to the film's cancellation, making the case that the whole thing was a big misunderstanding.

Craig Zobel, who directed the political satire that Universal Pictures recently pulled from its September release, told Variety on Monday that the intent of his movie "was to poke at both sides of the aisle equally" and not to "enrage and divide."

Universal pulled advertising for The Hunt in the wake of two deadly mass shootings, but further criticism of the film emerged after a report that its plot revolved around liberal elites hunting "deplorables" for sport. Multiple Fox News segments blasted the movie, and President Trump himself weighed in, tweeting about "the movie coming out" that he said was "made in order to inflame and cause chaos." While Trump didn't name the film, it can be assumed he was talking about The Hunt. Not quite taken into account was the fact that the movie's trailer suggested the "deplorables" were the heroes of the film, something Variety reports is clear in an early draft of the script.

Zobel told Variety he does not believe the film "could incite violence" and that it "satirized this moment in our culture — where we jump to assume we know someone's beliefs because of which 'team' we think they're on ... and then start shouting at them." He also criticized "inaccurate assumptions about the content and intent of the movie" but said that he "supported" the studio's decision to pull it once these assumptions "began to take hold." Now, Zobel says he hopes everyone will "reflect on why we are in this moment, where we don’t have any desire to listen to each other."

It remains unclear whether The Hunt could be released at a later date, but Zobel hopes it can be, and producer Jason Blum told Vulture there is "definitely a chance" of it still coming out.

Brendan Morrow

11:06 a.m.

Voters are finding it ever more likely that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has a good shot at unseating President Trump if she wins the Democratic nomination, a new Economist/YouGov poll shows.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has been running on the notion that he'd be able to swing middle-of-the-road voters in middle-of-the-road states back to the blue side after their dalliance with the GOP in 2016, making him the candidate with the best "electability" claim. But Warren is gaining on him. A healthy 65 percent of Democratic voters polled still said that Biden would "probably beat Donald Trump" in the general election, while Warren received the second highest mark in that area, with 57 percent.

Sure, those eight percentage points don't make for an insignificant gap, but Warren has vaulted 14 points since a previous poll in June, while Biden's figure has stagnated. And the two actually drew even closer among those who say each candidate would "probably lose" to Trump, with 16 percent of Democratic voters feeling pessimistic about Biden's chances and 18 percent for Warren.

Faiz Shakir, the campaign manager for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), said that Biden's case "rests on some weak assumptions," anyway. "You have to excite people about where you want to take this country," he said. Bloomberg notes that candidates like Sanders and Warren, for example, are focused more on bringing in new votes from people who sat out the 2016 election because of disenchantment, in contrast to Biden's determination to flip voters. That said, Biden still has more than his fair share of believers.

"We can't take a chance, and Joe Biden is our best chance," Henry Singleton, a New Yorker who watched the major Democratic candidates make their pitch to black voters at the NAACP convention in Detroit last month, told Bloomberg.

The Economist/YouGov poll was conducted between August 10-13 through web-based interviews with 1,500 U.S. adult citizens. The margin of error was 3 percentage points. Tim O'Donnell

10:19 a.m.

One of President Trump's oldest and closest friends is on the outs with the commander-in-chief, Politico reports.

Tom Barrack, a wealthy investor, has been by the president's side since the late 1980s, and that remained the case early on in Trump's tenure in the Oval Office when Barrack served as the chair of Trump's 2017 inauguration fund.

Now, though, the two reportedly no longer speak, current and former White House officials say. The falling out reportedly has something to do with Barrack's role in the inauguration, which is under investigation by prosecutors. The U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn is investigating whether Barrack violated laws requiring lobbyists to register when they work for foreign interests. The prosecutors have placed a particular emphasis on whether the inauguration let foreigners from the Middle East use straw donors to donate to the inauguration.

"The last thing Trump needs is to be closely associated with one more person facing scrutiny and potential ethical issues," said a person who knows Barrack.

However, other sources told Politico that the fracturing of their friendship began before the inauguration fund and is actually a result of something much simpler. A former White House official said that Barrack "is the kind of guy who would tell" Trump "things he didn't want to hear, so Trump stopped talking to him." Another source close to Trump said the president just "got tired" of Barrack, who he felt was trying to involve himself too much in the administration.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Barrack said that the relationship between the two "remains unchanged." But whatever the case may be, Politico notes the old pals could rekindle their friendship at any moment, as the president as been known to "turn on friends and allies, only to bring them back into the fold months or years later." Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

9:33 a.m.

The feud between President Trump and his former communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, isn't remotely slowing down.

Trump on Monday lashed out at Scaramucci, who served as White House director of communications for less than two weeks, after Scaramucci's latest morning show interview in which he blasted the president and again said Republicans should replace him on the 2020 ticket. Trump described Scaramucci's White House tenure as "11 days of gross incompetence," also alleging he "abused staff," bringing up his divorce, calling him a "mental wreck," and lobbing at him what is, in the president's world, the worst insult imaginable: that he was "bad on TV."

This is just the latest instance of Trump going after a former administration official he hired as grossly incompetent, having previously declared former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson "totally ill prepared and ill equipped" for the job.

Trump's tweets came after Scaramucci's latest morning show interview on CNN, during which he said Trump is "off his rocker" and is destroying "the social fabric of the United States," while claiming that "everyone inside" the White House knows this, Mediaite reports. Scaramucci continues to predict Trump will drop out of the 2020 race by next March. Brendan Morrow

8:59 a.m.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is now the most electrifying married man in all of entertainment.

Johnson on Monday morning revealed that he and his longtime girlfriend, Lauren Hashian, were married in Hawaii over the weekend. The Hobbs & Shaw star posted some beautiful photos from the Sunday ceremony on his Instagram page, writing, "Pōmaika'i (blessed)." Naturally, Kevin Hart was the top comment.

Johnson and Hashian, a singer-songwriter, have been together since 2007 after meeting the year prior while Johnson was making his movie The Game Plan, People reports. They have two daughters together: 3-year-old Jasmine and 1-year-old Tiana. Johnson also has an 18-year-old daughter from his previous marriage, CNN notes. In an interview with Entertainment Tonight last year, Johnson said that even before their wedding, "I just refer to her as my wife all the time."

The millions (and millions) of The Rock's fans are now wishing congratulations to the happy couple, although there's no word on whether Johnson provided catering at a wedding reception and if attendees, in fact, got to smell what The Rock was cooking. Brendan Morrow

8:01 a.m.

Journalist Mark Halperin was able to land more than 75 interviews with Democratic strategists for a new book, and the women who accused him of sexual misconduct aren't happy.

Halperin, who was fired from NBC News in 2017 after numerous women accused him of sexual harassment or assault while he worked at ABC News, had landed a deal with Regan Arts to publish a book titled How to Beat Trump: America's Top Political Strategists on What It Will Take, Politico reports. For the project, Halperin reportedly spoke with more than 75 Democratic strategists, including President Obama's former senior adviser David Axelrod and former Democratic National Committee chair Donna Brazile.

Now Regan Arts and the Democrats who participated in the book are under fire, including from Halperin's accusers. "The fact that so many people spoke to him sets the whole #MeToo movement back," Eleanor McManus, who sought out Halperin for career advice but claims he sexually harassed her during their meeting, told CNN. "And it shows they are enabling him and re-traumatizing the victims." McManus told CNN that Halperin has never apologized to her.

Another one of Halperin's accusers, Dianna Goldberg May, told The Washington Post that those who are "supporting Mark by speaking with him are on the wrong side of history."

Axelrod on Twitter said he "did not in any way mean to excuse [Halperin's] past, egregious behavior and, in retrospect, I regret responding at all." But other Democrats defended their participation, with Brazile telling The Daily Beast that "we are still angry at" Halperin but that "I wanted to go on the record with my answers about how to defeat Trump." Amanda Renteria, Hillary Clinton's former political director, also told the Beast that "women and people of color are worse off when our voices and experiences are left out of campaign histories like this."

Halperin in 2017 apologized for "aggressive and crude" behavior but denied allegations of assault. Brendan Morrow

7:12 a.m.

U.S. unemployment is still near record lows and consumer spending is strong, but there are a mounting signs that the long U.S. economic expansion is coming to an end. Along with slowing growth in other major economies and the brief flash of an inverted yield curve last week, The Wall Street Journal and the Indianapolis Star highlight another economic bellwether pointing toward recession: The flagging recreational-vehicle industry in Elkhart County, Indiana, the "RV Capital of the World."

"Economists like to use the RV industry, which dominates the manufacturing city on the very northern edge of Indiana, as a barometer for the health of the U.S. economy," the Star reports. "And the news coming out of Elkhart is giving some plenty of reason to be worried." Local economists largely blame President Trump's trade war with China.

Trump and his top economic advisers dismissed such concerns on Sunday, going on TV to insist that there's no recession looming, the U.S. economy is strong, China is paying for the tariffs, and if there is a slowdown, it's the Federal Reserve's fault.

Trump, privately "agitated in discussions of the economy," has publicly "unleashed what is by now a familiar response: lashing out at what he believes is a conspiracy of forces arrayed against him," Maggie Haberman writes at The New York Times. "He has insisted that his own handpicked Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, is intentionally acting against him. He has said other countries, including allies, are working to hurt American economic interests. And he has accused the news media of trying to create a recession" by "overstating the damage his trade war has caused."

Aides tell the Times that "Trump understands that presidents face harder re-election battles in a bad economy." But "the economy may be more important for Trump than it is for other presidents," writes CNN's Stephen Collinson, "given that its current health is one of the few policy areas where polls show he has majority support." Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads