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December 7, 2017

Firefighters are continuing to battle blazes in Ventura and Los Angeles counties that broke out earlier this week, forcing more than 200,000 people to evacuate and destroying at least 160 structures.

The Thomas Fire in Ventura County is headed toward Ojai, and authorities said they are concerned that strong winds and dry air could fuel the flames for weeks. It has already burned 96,000 acres and is just 5 percent contained. While two smaller fires that broke out in San Bernardino County are now fully contained, two new fires erupted in Riverside and San Diego counties Thursday morning and afternoon. The Lilac Fire in northern San Diego County has already scorched 2,500 acres and torched 20 structures, fire officials said, the flames fanned by strong winds and growing at a "dangerous" rate. In Riverside County, the Liberty Fire has burned 300 acres in Murrieta and destroyed one building; as of Thursday evening it is 5 percent contained. Catherine Garcia

4:21p.m.

The FBI arrested a Treasury Department adviser on charges of leaking the financial records of several subjects of the Justice Department's probe into Russian election interference, the DOJ announced announced Wednesday.

The adviser, Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, allegedly leaked confidential "Suspicious Activity Reports" regarding President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former business partner Richard Gates, among others, the DOJ complaint says. The leaks seemed to have informed 12 BuzzFeed News articles detailing GOP operatives' payments to Russia "to finance election campaign of 2016," The Daily Beast reports.

Edwards, a senior adviser in the Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, was apparently "entrusted" with the Suspicious Activity Reports, which banks file confidentially to report "potentially illegal transactions," a DOJ press release says. The reports pertained to Manafort, Gates, alleged Russian spy Mariia Butina, the Russian Embassy, and others related to to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, per the release. Edwards allegedly saved these files on a flash drive and sent them to an unnamed reporter, whom The Washington Post presumes is from BuzzFeed News.

Edwards is now facing one count of "unauthorized disclosures of suspicious activity reports," as well as one count of conspiracy to do the same, the DOJ said. BuzzFeed News has declined to comment. Her arrest comes days after another senior official pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during a leak investigation. Read the full Justice Department complaint here. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:08p.m.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) isn't giving up on repealing ObamaCare just yet.

The Senate majority leader said in an interview with Reuters on Wednesday that the GOP might take another stab at repealing the Affordable Care Act after the midterm elections. "If we had the votes to completely start over, we'd do it," McConnell said, adding that this depends "on what happens in a couple weeks."

Senate Republicans came quite close to repealing at least parts of ObamaCare in 2017, but their efforts were ultimately thwarted with a 49-51 vote. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and the late Sen. John McCain, were the deciding votes in the rejected "skinny repeal" bill, which would have ended major aspects of ObamaCare without permanent replacements. Some Republicans reluctantly voted for the "skinny repeal" despite concerns, thinking it would open negotiations with lawmakers in the House to create an actual ObamaCare replacement, but McCain, Collins, Murkowski defected.

McConnell told Reuters that this failed vote is the "one disappointment of this Congress," adding that Republicans are still "not satisfied with the way ObamaCare is working." The GOP is currently expected to keep its majority in the Senate this November, but pundits say Democrats could likely take control of the House, which would end any hope of ObamaCare being repealed for at least another two years. Brendan Morrow

1:56p.m.

President Trump's appeal to seniors may not be working out as well as he'd hoped.

A Morning Consult/Politico survey published Wednesday found that among voters whose number one concerns are Social Security and Medicare, 52 percent said they would vote for a Democratic candidate in a congressional election if it were held today, compared to 33 percent who said they'd vote for a Republican. No specific candidates were named; voters were just asked generally which party they'd favor.

The poll also found that among voters who prioritize Social Security and Medicare, 60 percent disapprove of the job Trump is doing as president, while 37 percent approve. In the 2016 election, 53 percent of seniors voted for Trump. Additionally, the majority of these seniors' issues voters, 65 percent, say the country has gotten off on the wrong track. Overall, Social Security and Medicare was the second most prevalent issue — 17 percent consider it a top priority, coming in only behind the economy.

Respondents were polled in the days following a USA Today op-ed Trump wrote, in which he promised to defend Medicare and Social Security from "the radical socialist plans of the Democrats." The president argued Democrats would eviscerate the programs, disproportionately affecting seniors. Fact-checkers debunked many of Trump's claims, and it seems senior issue voters weren't buying it either. Seniors historically have skewed Republican, notes Morning Consult, but analysis suggests the demographic is coming around to Democrats' pledge to push Medicare-for-all.

The Morning Consult/Politico poll was conducted from Oct. 11-14 by speaking to 1,959 registered voters online. The margin of error is 2 percentage points. Brendan Morrow

1:32p.m.

Joe Arpaio lost his Senate bid earlier this year, and he blames The New York Times for ruining his chances of running again.

The former Maricopa County sheriff has accused the Times and a member of its editorial board of libel, Politico reports. In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, Arpaio says a Times opinion piece published after he lost Arizona's GOP Senate primary this year is full of "false, defamatory factual assertions" that could prove harmful when he runs for the Senate again in 2020.

Arpaio's 24-year stint as sheriff was marked by the opening of an outdoor tent jail he called a "concentration camp," federal lawsuits alleging he championed racial profiling, and a slew of other not-so-positive career highlights. He was convicted of contempt of court while fighting one of those racial profiling cases, and received a pardon from President Trump last year.

But apparently, a Times op-ed published after Arpaio lost the GOP primary for Sen. Jeff Flake's (R-Ariz.) seat is what actually made Arpaio look bad. In the piece, columnist Michelle Cottle writes that Arpaio's "24-year reign of terror was medieval in its brutality." The sheriff conducted "racial profiling on a mass scale," she wrote. In the suit, Arpaio contends these allegations were "carefully and maliciously calculated to damage and injure” his reputation within the law enforcement community, The Washington Post reports. Arpaio also worries the allegations will stymie donations as he runs for the late Sen. John McCain's seat, temporarily held by Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.).

Arpaio is seeking $147.5 million in damages as well as legal fees from the Times and Cottle, Politico details. The Times "intend[s] to vigorously defend against the lawsuit," a spokeswoman told the Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:48p.m.

Even without its former leading lady, The Conners had a solid debut on ABC this week.

The first episode of the Roseanne spin-off drew about 10.46 million viewers on Tuesday night, writes The Hollywood Reporter, which is about the same audience size that Roseanne was maintaining when it ended last May. The finale of Roseanne, the last episode that actually had actress Roseanne Barr in it, drew 10.58 million viewers.

Roseanne was canceled after Barr sent a racist tweet calling a black woman an "ape," only for ABC to order a spin-off featuring everyone but Barr. In the debut, it's revealed that Barr's character died of a drug overdose off-screen.

The Conners' premiere did, however, attract a significantly smaller audience than the premiere of the Roseanne revival, as about 18.4 million people tuned into that last March. The initial boom dropped off as the tenth season went on, and the show began averaging about 10 million viewers per episode near the end of its run.

The real question, though, is how The Conners will continue to perform throughout the season. Are viewers satisfied with the new Roseanne-free lineup, or did they simply tune in to satisfy a morbid curiosity about how her firing would be addressed? Could this situation be like Kevin Can Wait, in which the episode with the female lead's death drew 10 million viewers, only for the ratings to immediately tank until the show was swiftly canceled? Or will it be more like Two and a Half Men, which continued for years after Charlie Sheen's firing? No matter which way it shakes out, viewers can presume that Barr will continue to tweet angrily about it. Brendan Morrow

12:02p.m.

New horrifying details are emerging about the evidence Turkey claims to have in the suspected murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Turkish officials reportedly shared with the United States details of an audio recording that suggests Khashoggi was killed minutes after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. The audio reportedly includes the voice of Salah Al Tabiqi, a Saudi forensic specialist, who tells others in the room to listen to music while he dismembers Khashoggi.

Audio leaked by a Turkish newspaper also suggests Khashoggi had his fingers cut off and was beheaded, and that the Saudi consul general told operatives to "do this outside," The New York Times reports. "You will put me in trouble," he reportedly said.

The United States is awaiting the completion of a Saudi investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance. The journalist arrived at the consulate earlier this month and has not been heard from since. Saudi Arabia's government has denied any knowledge of what happened to him, but Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that he is expanding the probe to find details.

President Trump seems to be leaning toward believing Saudi officials' denials; on Tuesday he compared accusations that they were involved in Khashoggi's death to the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Both, he said, are cases of being considered "guilty until proven innocent." Pompeo, after speaking with Saudi leaders Tuesday, said he did not yet "want to talk about any of the facts." Brendan Morrow

11:35a.m.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo doesn't "want to talk about any of the facts" regarding the disappearance of Jamal Khoshoggi.

The U.S.-based Saudi journalist hasn't been seen since he entered Turkey's Saudi Arabian consulate on Oct. 2, prompting a meeting between Pompeo and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday. Before Pompeo left Riyadh on Wednesday after the meeting, a reporter asked him if the Saudis had indicated whether Khashoggi was "alive or dead."

"I don't want to talk about any of the facts," Pompeo responded, and the Saudis "didn't want to either." Instead, the Saudis just want "the opportunity to complete this investigation" into Khashoggi's disappearance, Pompeo said, adding that it is "reasonable" to let them do so.

Few details have emerged from Pompeo's meetings with bin Salman and Saudi King Salman. But Pompeo and bin Salman apparently did make a joint call to President Trump, in which bin Salman "totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish consulate," Trump tweeted Tuesday. Turkish officials reportedly have evidence that Saudi operatives killed Khashoggi, but Trump has pushed to presume Saudi Arabia's innocence until the investigation is complete. Kathryn Krawczyk

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