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December 11, 2017

CNN reported Monday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions did in fact receive guidance from the FBI instructing him not to disclose contacts with foreign officials if they occurred as part of his activities as a senator. A spokesperson for Sessions had made that claim in May after the attorney general faced fierce criticism for not listing conversations he had with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, but Monday's report is the first indication by the FBI that it gave such instruction.

The email, sent in March and obtained by CNN, shows an unnamed FBI agent telling an aide to Sessions that he could leave foreign contacts made as a senator off of his security clearance application. Sessions' spokesperson said earlier this year that he had been "instructed not to list meetings with foreign dignitaries and their staff connected with his Senate activities."

During his confirmation hearings in January, Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he was not aware of any contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, stating unambiguously, "I did not have communications with the Russians." That claim was called into dispute in March when The Washington Post reported that Sessions had met with Kislyak in September 2016. A spokesperson for Sessions said that "there was absolutely nothing misleading about [Sessions'] answer" because he had met with Kislyak as part of his duties as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the hearing question had specifically concerned acts undertaken as a surrogate for the Trump campaign.

While the newly released email does give Sessions cover regarding his foreign contacts disclosures, it does not clarify why Sessions does not remember talking to Kislyak at all, nor his presence at a meeting where a Trump campaign aide suggested setting up a meeting with Russian government officials, as he has claimed. Kelly O'Meara Morales

1:04 p.m.

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan really spoke his mind during the sentencing of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn Tuesday. Flynn was going to be sentenced, but after his attorneys requested a delay, Sullivan agreed to wait until March to allow Flynn to continue cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Sullivan in court said that Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contact with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, was an "unregistered agent of a foreign country while serving as the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States," which "undermines everything this flag over here stands for" and means that "arguably, you sold your country out," per CNN's Josh Campbell. The judge added that he couldn't hide "my disgust, my disdain" for what Flynn did, CNN's Evan Perez reports, noting that Flynn's lawyers seemed "stunned" by this.

What Flynn did is a "very serious offense," Sullivan also concluded, and he asked the special counsel's office whether they considered charging Flynn with treason, per CNN's David Gelles. When the prosecutor said this was not considered, Sullivan asked again if he could have been hit with that charge.

Sullivan warned Flynn that he can not guarantee he won't receive prison time, despite Mueller's recommendation that he remain free due to his "substantial assistance" to federal prosecutors. After a recess, the judge backtracked on some of his earlier statements, saying what he said about Flynn being an "unregistered foreign agent" was incorrect because Flynn's lobbying ended before he began serving in the Trump administration, per CNN's Dianne Gallagher. Brendan Morrow

12:29 p.m.

The Trump administration is implementing a ban on bump stocks.

Under a regulation announced by the Department of Justice Tuesday, those who own bump stock devices will have 90 days to either destroy them or turn them into authorities, CNN reports. Bump stocks can be attached to semiautomatic guns, allowing them to fire at a much faster rate, and President Trump's administration has concluded that they therefore fall under the existing federal law banning machine guns.

When this rule goes into effect in 90 days, weapons with bump stocks will be "considered a machine gun," and will be illegal, the Justice Department said, per BuzzFeed News.

President Trump had previously instructed the Justice Department to take a look at the regulations around bump stocks after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February, per The New York Times. Though that instance did not involve a bump stock, they received increased scrutiny after one was used in the October 2017 shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people. Trump made clear his desire to get rid of the devices, writing on Twitter in March, "we will BAN all devices that turn legal weapons into illegal machine guns." The administration's final regulation is set to formally publish on Friday. Brendan Morrow

11:47 a.m.

President Trump's charity is shutting down.

Amid a lawsuit alleging the president used the Trump Foundation for personal and political gain, the charity agreed to "dissolve" and donate its "remaining assets" to approved charities, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced Tuesday. Trump tried to get the state lawsuit thrown out as recently as last month, but a judge ruled it could proceed. The suit effectively claims that "persistently illegal conduct" turned the charity into Trump's personal piggy bank.

Per a document filed in a Manhattan court Tuesday, the Trump Foundation will "dissolve under judicial supervision." The foundation's most recent tax return says it has about $1.7 million in assets, reports CNN. Those funds will go to charities chosen after "review and approval by the attorney general," the release says.

The lawsuit was filed by Underwood in June, and alleges "a shocking pattern of illegality ... including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign," per the release. Essentially, Underwood says the Trump Foundation served as Trump's personal "checkbook."

Tuesday's agreement is just one of three "outcomes" the attorney general was hoping for, CNN notes. The lawsuit "also seeks millions in restitution and penalties and a bar on President Trump and his three eldest children from serving on the boards of other New York charities," the attorney general's statement, so it'll continue to be fought in court. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:32 a.m.

The White House may be ready to accept that Democrats are unwilling to agree to $5 billion in federal spending for President Trump's proposed border wall, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Tuesday, per The Washington Post.

"We have other ways that we can get to that $5 billion," she said. "At the end of the day we don't want to shut down the government, we want to shut down the border." Trump was demanding the sum in a federal spending bill for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, but Democrats said they were only willing to spend $1.6 billion on general border security. Without an agreement on federal spending, the government will shut down after Friday, which Trump said he'd be "proud" to do over the issue.

Sanders said the White House had "identified" different funding sources, "that we can couple with money that would be given through congressional appropriations," to find the $5 billion elsewhere. She said negotiations between the two parties are ongoing.

Read more at The Washington Post, and read more about the familiarity of the imminent shutdown here at The Week. Summer Meza

11:16 a.m.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) is sending a failed candidate to the U.S. Senate.

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who narrowly lost her midterm Senate bid to Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), will now fill the seat vacated by late Sen. John McCain, Ducey announced Tuesday. Arizona had never sent a woman to the Senate before this year, and now it'll be represented by two.

After McCain's death in August, former Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) rejoined the chamber, only promising to serve until the end of the year. Kyl formally announced his resignation last week, leaving Ducey to appoint another replacement. McSally will now serve until a special election can be held in 2020.

McCain's wife Cindy McCain, who'd been loosely mentioned as a possible replacement, had a muted reaction to the announcement. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:12 a.m.

A federal judge has ruled neither the Broward County Sheriff's Office nor the local school district had a constitutional duty to protect students during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, this past February.

U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom dismissed a suit brought by 15 students against the school district, the sheriff's office, school deputy Scot Peterson, and campus monitor Andrew Medina. Bloom held that because the students were not in custody — prison, for example — state agencies have no legal obligation to protect them.

"The claim arises from the actions of [shooter Nikolas] Cruz, a third party, and not a state actor," Bloom wrote in her ruling. "Thus, the critical question the Court analyzes is whether defendants had a constitutional duty to protect plaintiffs from the actions of Cruz," she said, concluding that "for such a duty to exist on the part of defendants, plaintiffs would have to be considered to be in custody."

Bloom's ruling is in line with the Supreme Court's 7-2 decision in Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales (2005), which held police do not have a constitutional duty to protect people from harm. In that case, SCOTUS determined the obligation does not exist even when police have been repeatedly notified of violation of a restraining order which is supposed to trigger a mandatory arrest. Bonnie Kristian

10:59 a.m.

From targeting black voters to encouraging Texan secession, Russians crafted memes on social media to push the 2016 election in President Trump's favor, a Senate report released Monday shows. But at first glance, it's not completely clear how some posts relate to the 2016 race.

In one of two reports shared Monday, cybersecurity firm New Knowledge documents how a Russian troll farm called the Internet Research Agency "leveraged social media to wage a propaganda war" during and beyond the election cycle. Posts got the most engagement on Instagram — like this June 11, 2017 post, which was IRA's most successful on the platform with 254,179 likes and 6,734 comments.

This kind of post wasn't explicitly about politics, but instead aimed to build an audience and viewers' trust, the report notes. The same was true of IRA's most-liked Instagram before the election, which it posted twice on the account @army_of_jesus_ in March and June of 2016.

Top-performing memes like this one were often reposted or recycled across different pages, seeing as IRA ran 133 Instagram accounts, 16 websites, and dozens of Facebook pages, the report says. Across all those accounts, just 18 percent of Instagram posts and seven percent of Facebook posts mentioned candidates Trump or Hillary Clinton by name.

You can read the whole disinformation report here, or get a quicker rundown here. Kathryn Krawczyk

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