December 5, 2017

Blackwater founder Erik Prince, ex-CIA officer John R. Maguire, and Iran-Contra linchpin Oliver North have been shopping a proposal to President Trump's White House and CIA Director Mike Pompeo to create a private global network of expendable spies that would report directly to Trump and Pompeo, and Pompeo wants Trump to approve the contract, The Intercept reports, citing "several current and former U.S. intelligence officials and others familiar with the proposals." The Intercept confirms and expands on BuzzFeed's report that intelligence contractor Amyntor Group, Maguire's employer, is a potential organizer of the new private spy network.

"Pompeo can't trust the CIA bureaucracy, so we need to create this thing that reports just directly to him," a former senior U.S. intelligence official tells The Intercept, paraphrasing White House discussions. "The whole point is this is supposed to report to the president and Pompeo directly." Maguire was on Trump's transition team and used to work for Prince, and North, a Fox News regular, was reportedly brought in to help enlist Trump's support. The apparent pitch to Trump was creating an intelligence apparatus that will counter the "deep state" trying to undermine his presidency.

"John [Maguire] was certain that the deep state was going to kick the president out of office within a year," a person who discussed it with Maguire told The Intercept. Maguire also told at least two people that H.R. McMaster, Trump's national security adviser, had approved surveillance on Stephen Bannon, Donald Trump Jr., and Eric Trump, The Intercept reports, and "used a burner phone to send information gathered through the surveillance to a facility in Cyprus owned by George Soros." The National Security Council, CIA, and Prince all denied the global spy network; NSC spokesman Michael Anton said "the White House does not and would not support such a proposal." Current and former intelligence officials say that's not true. You can read more at The Intercept. Peter Weber

10:32 a.m.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have evidence pointing to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' girlfriend Lauren Sanchez as the person who provided her brother, Michael Sanchez, with text messages that he later sold to The National Enquirer for its article about Bezos' extramarital affair with Sanchez, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal. There are no reports, however, that Lauren Sanchez was aware of her brother's plans.

The sources said the prosecutors' evidence includes text messages Sanchez sent her brother containing flirtatious messages and photos from Bezos in 2018.

The revelation comes on the heels of speculation that Saudi Arabia may have played a role in the leak, which was enhanced by reports that Bezos' phone was hacked after a WhatsApp conversation with an account belonging to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The Verge notes that it still seems likely that Michael Sanchez was the primary source behind the Enquirer's story, but it's still possible that Saudi Arabia hacked Bezos' phone for separate reasons. Saudi Arabia denied the allegations. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

10:14 a.m.

As experts tell people to not to panic about the unfamiliar coronavirus, several governments are taking steps to limit its spread.

A second case of the respiratory virus that originated in Wuhan, China, leaving more than 40 people dead and causing quarantines and transit closures throughout China, has been confirmed in the United States. Officials said Friday that a Chicago woman in her 60s has been diagnosed with the virus, and they're monitoring 63 other possible cases across 22 U.S. states. The Chicago patient, who last week returned home from Wuhan, is reportedly isolated in the hospital, and officials say she's doing well and has had limited contact with others.

The U.S. is reportedly planning to evacuate its citizens and diplomats from Wuhan on Sunday via a chartered plane — any additional seats may be offered to non-U.S. citizens. Elsewhere, Hong Kong, where there's five confirmed cases, on Saturday declared the outbreak "an emergency," scrapping Lunar New Year celebrations, restricting links to the mainland, and keeping schools closed. Australia, Malaysia, and France also reported cases Friday.

More than 1,300 have been infected across the globe, mostly in China. Read more at The Wall Street Journal and Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

8:10 a.m.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whose known for being wary of the press, apparently did not enjoy his latest interview.

Pompeo reportedly berated NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly on Friday after she interviewed him about the ousting of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. During Friday's interview, which aired on NPR's Morning Edition, Pompeo said he has "defended every State Department official on his team," but did not provide Kelly with a specific example of him defending Yovanovitch. Pompeo complained that he was there to talk about Iran, but Kelly assured him she confirmed with his team that she would ask him about Ukraine, as well.

Following the interview, Kelly said she was summoned by a Pompeo aide to a private room where Pompeo "shouted" at her, asking if she thought "Americans care about Ukraine" and challenging her to point to the country on an unmarked map, which the well-traveled, veteran reporter was able to do.

Journalists like CNN's Jake Tapper defended Kelly's line questioning, while Democratic politicians blasted Pompeo's behavior. The State Department didn't have much to say on the matter, though.

At the end of their encounter, Kelly said Pompeo told her "people will hear about this." They sure did - straight from Kelly. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

January 24, 2020

At least 14 people are dead and hundreds more injured after a magnitude 6.7 earthquake hit eastern Turkey on Friday, Turkish officials tell The Associated Press.

The quake hit at 8:55 p.m. in the Elazig province, where Gov. Cetin Oktay Kaldirim told NTV television that three people had died. Gov. Aydin Barus of the the neighboring Malatya province told state TV that five people had been reported dead there. At least 225 people were injured in Elazig and 90 in Malatya, the Daily Sabah reported.

Several aftershocks followed the initial quake, with the harshest ones hitting magnitudes of 5.4 and 5.1. Some buildings collapsed in Elazig and one caught fire in the town of Sivrice, but it was quickly doused. A four- or five-story building had also collapsed in the town of Maden, and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told NTV television earlier Friday that rescuers were on the scene.

Some people's homes were too damaged to return to, and others were afraid to go back inside in case of later shocks or collapses, so they were "being moved to student dormitories or sports center amid freezing conditions," AP writes. Kathryn Krawczyk

January 24, 2020

After Annabella Sciorra testified that disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein raped her in the early 1990s, Rosie Perez took the stand Friday to back her up.

Perez testified in the ongoing Weinstein rape trial after Sciorra told jurors Thursday that in 1993 or 1994, Weinstein raped her in her New York apartment. Bolstering Sciorra's claim, Perez said Friday that in 1993, Sciorra told her, "I think I was raped," The New York Times reports.

Although Perez testified that Sciorra initially did not name the alleged perpetrator, she said Sciorra later told her it was Weinstein.

"She swore me never to tell anybody," Perez said. "I told her to go to the police, and she said: 'I can't. He will destroy me. He will destroy my career."

Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 80 women, is facing charges of sexual assault and rape. He has pleaded not guilty and denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex acts. Prosecutors allege Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on a woman in 2006 and raped a woman in 2013, but Sciorra testified as a "prior bad acts" witness as prosecutors attempt to establish a pattern of behavior. If convicted, Weinstein faces possible life in prison. Brendan Morrow

January 24, 2020

Apparently President Trump thought we hadn't had enough Star Trek spinoffs for one year.

After literal years of anticipation, President Trump debuted a logo for the "Space Force" he's been touting his entire presidency. It's none of the adorable logos he asked Trump email subscribers to vote on about a year and a half ago, but instead a near-exact replica of the Starfleet Command logo from Star Trek.

The similarities were immediately apparent ...

... and George Takei quickly verified we weren't just seeing things. Kathryn Krawczyk

January 24, 2020

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) warned Friday that President Trump abused the power of his presidency and will do so again unless removed from office.

During the final day of Democrats' opening arguments in the Senate's impeachment trial, Schiff argued in favor of Trump's removal from office, after the House of Representatives passed two articles of impeachment charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. "Based on the abuse of power for which he was impeached, and his ongoing efforts to solicit foreign interference both directly and through Mr. Giuliani, there can be little doubt that President Trump will continue to invite foreign interference in our elections again and again," Schiff said, saying Trump solicited election interference both from Russia in 2016 and then Ukraine in 2020. "That poses an imminent threat to the integrity of our democracy."

Schiff went on to argue that Trump's "pattern of conduct repeatedly soliciting foreign interference in our elections for his own benefit confirms that he will stop at nothing to retain his power." Trump has denied pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden in order to benefit his 2020 presidential campaign.

After Democrats wrap up their opening impeachment arguments later on Friday, arguments from Trump's team will begin Saturday morning and last "several hours." Trump's defense doesn't have to use the full 24 hours they've been allotted, but if they do, their arguments will continue until Tuesday. Should a vote to call additional witnesses fail, the impeachment trial could conclude next week. Brendan Morrow

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