Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn reportedly told a business-associate-turned-whistleblower that President Trump would rip up economic sanctions against Russia as one of his first acts in office, thereby allowing a development project Flynn had once been involved with to move forward, The New York Times reports. The controversial Middle Eastern nuclear plant project once involved Russian companies and was promoted by Flynn throughout his brief White House tenure.
"According to the whistleblower, Gen. Flynn reportedly sent a key communication on Inauguration Day indicating that the project was now 'good to go' and directing his business colleagues to move forward," the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), wrote to the chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). The whistleblower contacted Cummings directly, but Cummings said the individual would be willing to speak with Gowdy so long as his or her identity remained protected.
According to the account detailed in [Cummings'] letter, the whistleblower had a conversation on Inauguration Day with Alex Copson of ACU Strategic Partners [...] During the conversation, Mr. Copson told the whistle-blower that "this is the best day of my life" because it was "the start of something I've been working on for years, and we are good to go." Mr. Copson told the whistleblower that Mr. Flynn had sent him a text message during Mr. Trump's inaugural address, directing him to tell others involved in the nuclear project to continue developing their plans.
"This is going to make a lot of very wealthy people," Mr. Copson said. [The New York Times]
The New York Times adds that "the account ... suggests that Mr. Flynn had a possible economic incentive for the United States to forge a closer relationship with Russia." Last week, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contact with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Read more here. Jeva Lange
A Mueller witness working for the UAE paired with an RNC official to cultivate Trump for the Saudis, oust Tillerson
George Nader, a political adviser to the crown prince leading the United Arab Emirates and a cooperating witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, has spent the past year working with the Republican National Committee's deputy finance chairman to steer President Trump's Middle East policy and oust Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, The New York Times reports, citing interviews and newly disclosed documents.
Nader and Elliot Broidy, a longtime GOP fundraiser, used their influence and contacts in Trump's White House to "cultivate" Trump on behalf of the UAE and Saudi Crown Prince (and self-proclaimed Jared Kushner puppet-master) Mohammed bin Salman, and against Iran and Qatar, the Times says, adding: "Tillerson was fired last week, and the president has adopted tough approaches toward both Iran and Qatar." The two men — Nader, 58, and Broidy, 60 — met during Trump's inaugural festivities and "became fast friends," and Nader didn't come to the friendship empty-handed, the Times explains:
Nader tempted ... Broidy with the prospect of more than $1 billion in contracts for his private security company, Circinus, and he helped deliver deals worth more than $200 million with the United Arab Emirates. He also flattered Mr. Broidy about "how well you handle Chairman," a reference to Mr. Trump, and repeated to his well-connected friend that he told the effective rulers of both Saudi Arabia and the UAE about "the Pivotal Indispensable Magical Role you are playing to help them." [The New York Times]
In return, Broidy told Nader he personally pushed Trump in October to fire Tillerson, seen by the Saudis and Emiratis as insufficiently hardline on Iran and Qatar, and urged Trump to meet with the UAE crown prince in a "quiet" place outside the White House — a request blocked by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Broidy reported. Nader was met by Mueller's agents in February en route to meet Trump at Mar-a-Lago, an invitation wrangled by Broidy. You can read more about the tangled web at The New York Times. Peter Weber
Toys R Us is closing all of its stores in the United States, and a defunct retailer is hoping to rise up from its ashes.
KB Toys ceased operations in 2009, but Strategic Marks purchased the brand in 2016 from Bain Capital — the same company that took Toys R Us private in 2006. Strategic Marks President Ellia Kassoff told CNN Money the plan is to open 1,000 pop-ups on Black Friday, and where the pop-ups do well, they'll make permanent KB Toys stores.
Kassoff said he's been in touch with Hasbro, Mattel, and dozens of other smaller toy suppliers, and the "assumption is that there's about half a billion dollars worth of toys that have been produced for Toys R Us with no place to go. That's a big, big void that we're hoping to fill up." Catherine Garcia
Finishing a race everyone had already forgotten about even though it was just last week news, Republican Rick Saccone on Wednesday called Democrat Conor Lamb on Wednesday to admit defeat in the special House election for Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district.
Lamb won by a few hundred votes and claimed victory in the early hours of March 14. There was some rumbling from Republicans that Saccone would call for a recount or take the matter to court, but Lamb tweeted Wednesday evening that Saccone "congratulated me and graciously conceded last Tuesday's election. I congratulate Mr. Saccone for a close, hard-fought race and wish him the best. Ready to be sworn in and get to work for the people of #PA18." Saccone, a member of the Pennsylvania House, said he plans on running again, this time in the newly drawn 14th congressional district. Catherine Garcia
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg told CNN on Wednesday he's "really sorry" about a data breach that affected an estimated 50 million Facebook users, acknowledging that the company has "a basic responsibility" to protect people's information, "and if we can't do that then we don't deserve to have the opportunity to serve people."
"We have a basic responsibility to protect people's data and if we can't do that then we don't deserve to have the opportunity to serve people," says Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg https://t.co/kmMO3jnLxl pic.twitter.com/nqv0QxLXhg
— CNN (@CNN) March 22, 2018
The company is under scrutiny following the revelation that a data scientist created a personality quiz that was taken by millions of Facebook users, and their personal information and that of their friends was then secretly passed along to the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica. Zuckerberg told CNN's Laurie Segall that "anyone whose data may have been affected" will be notified by Facebook, and the platform plans on building a tool that lets users see if their information has been compromised and if they are using any apps that are "doing sketchy things."
Zuckerberg said he's "not sure we shouldn't be regulated," as there are "things like ad transparency regulation that I would love to see." He's also "sure someone's trying" to use Facebook to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections, a "Version 2 of whatever the Russian effort was in 2016," and "there are going to be some new tactics that we need to make sure that we observe and get in front of." Zuckerberg would be "happy" to testify before Congress "if it's the right thing to do," he said, and when Segall asked if, knowing what he does now, he thinks "Facebook impacted the results of the 2016 election," he gave a vague response. "Oh that's — that is hard," Zuckerberg said. "You know, I think that it is — it's really hard for me to have a full assessment of that." Catherine Garcia
On Wednesday, congressional negotiators finalized a $1.3 trillion budget bill that must be passed by both the House and Senate by midnight Friday in order to avoid a government shutdown.
The 2,232-page bill was released in the evening, and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said that "no bill of this size is perfect. But this legislation addresses important priorities and makes us stronger at home and abroad." The bill increases military and domestic spending but does not give President Trump all of the money he wants to build a southern border wall or address the protection of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. It also allows for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research on gun violence, but not advocacy. Catherine Garcia
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told people close to him that President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, shared with him the names of Saudis who were disloyal to him, and also told the crown prince of Abu Dhabi he has Kushner "in his pocket," current and former White House and government officials told The Intercept.
Before his security clearance was downgraded, Kushner read with interest the President's Daily Brief, filled with classified intelligence, and after Mohammed bin Salman ousted his cousin from the crown prince position last June, the briefing contained information on the situation and names of royal family members opposed to his move, three people told The Intercept. In October, Kushner made an unannounced visit to Riyadh, during which he stayed up late "planning strategy" with the crown prince, The Washington Post reported at the time; a week later, Mohammed bin Salman launched what he called an anti-corruption crackdown, detaining hundreds of Saudi royals and businessmen.
One person told The Intercept it's likely the crown prince would be able to get the names of his critics without Kushner's help, and he could have told people he received the information from Kushner so it would look like the Trump administration backed his actions. A spokesperson for Kushner's lawyer told The Intercept Kushner did not discuss any names with the crown prince. Catherine Garcia
While still employed as the FBI's deputy director, Andrew McCabe authorized an investigation into whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied while testifying in his congressional confirmation hearing in January 2017, three people familiar with the matter told NBC News.
Sessions' lawyer, Chuck Cooper, told NBC News the investigation ended without criminal charges, and a Justice Department official said Sessions had no idea about the investigation when he decided to fire McCabe last week, less than two days before his retirement was set to kick in. At his hearing, Sessions said he never met with any Russians while serving as a campaign surrogate for President Trump; it was later revealed that Sessions did meet multiple times with Russia's ambassador at the time. Sessions went on to defend himself by saying the interactions took place in his capacity as a senator, and they were not important enough to remember.
One person told NBC News that after Sessions' testimony, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and former Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) referred a perjury inquiry to the FBI. This is a common occurrence, the person added, but these inquiries rarely end in prosecution because they are very hard to prove. Catherine Garcia