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January 12, 2018

On Friday, American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp went on Fox News to offer a tenuous defense of President Trump's reported characterization of Haiti and several African states as "shithole countries." Schlapp, the former political director for former President George W. Bush, chose to back the president by ... disparaging the quality of Haiti's beaches.

Schlapp began by noting that Trump denied making the vulgar remarks entirely, before pivoting to his creative defense of the president's alleged comments. "Here are the facts. The facts are: I don't know anybody who has spent two weeks on the beach in Haiti."

Schlapp then moved on to blame the Democrats who were in the meeting — a bipartisan summit on immigration reform — for stirring up the controversy. "The president learned a lesson," Schlapp declared: "When the Democrats and their staff are in the Oval Office, they're gonna say and leak anything to harm you politically, and they did that."

Fox News' Sandra Smith pointed out in response that the Democrats were not lying about what the president said. "To be clear, Matt, Fox News has confirmed his choice of words in that meeting," she said.

For the record: Here are some pictures of Haiti's beaches. Kelly O'Meara Morales

Editor's note: This post originally mischaracterized Schlapp's relationship to Fox News. It has since been corrected. We regret the error.

2:47 a.m.

The Trump administration is still holding more than 14,600 migrant children at 137 government-funded shelters around the U.S., but that number could soon drop by hundreds of detainees under a policy shift at the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement is in charge of sheltering minors traveling by themselves or, especially under President Trump's officially defunct family separation policy, removed from their parents at the border. Going forward, that office will no longer fingerprint and run full background checks on all adults in a household that wants to sponsor a separated minor, only the sponsors themselves and any other adult who is flagged in a public-records check.

Most sponsors are a parent or relative of the detained child. "The children should be home with their parents," Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary at HHS's Administration for Children and Families, told NPR on Tuesday. "The government makes lousy parents." The extra screening "is not adding anything to the protection or the safety of the children," she added. "I don't want to cause any additional harm by keeping kids in care any longer than they need to when they have a thoroughly vetted parent waiting for them." Johnson said about 2,000 children are ready to be released to vetted parents before Christmas.

The policy shift was driven in part by pragmatic concerns: The ACLU and other groups sued HHS last month over the extra background checks, and the 137 federal facilities are 91 percent full, most notoriously the massive Tornillo tent city in West Texas. Migrant advocates cheered the change — with caveats. For example, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has arrested 170 immigrants who applied to sponsor a migrant child, and HHS isn't ending its information-sharing agreement with ICE. "Rather than prioritizing the well-being and safety of children, the Trump administration continues to use them as bait to round up and deport their family members," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in a statement. Peter Weber

2:03 a.m.

Who said shipwrecks can't be festive?

Wearing Santa hats, a group of divers recently decided to spread some holiday cheer 137 feet underwater, making their way to the MS Zenobia shipwreck off the coast of Cyprus. A Swedish cargo ship, the Zenobia capsized in 1980 on its maiden voyage. No one was hurt in the incident, but more than 100 tractor trailers on board went down with the vessel.

The divers chose a white tree for the shipwreck, and decorated it with nontoxic ornaments that will not disintegrate in the ocean. It's likely that many people will celebrate Christmas under the sea, as the Zenobia attracts thousands of divers every year. Catherine Garcia

1:40 a.m.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson is predictable, in that every night he uses his platform to "demonize immigrants," "spread false information," and "spread the president's lies," CNN's Don Lemon said Tuesday night.

Last Thursday, Carlson said migrants make "our own country poorer and dirtier and more divided." Since then, more than a dozen companies have pulled their ads from his show. While discussing the matter with Lemon, CNN's Chris Cuomo was incredulous that Carlson would be "talking about human beings that way." While he ordinarily wouldn't air "hateful speech," Cuomo said, it's "important for people to see what someone's trying to pass off as news."

Lemon was careful to say that he normally doesn't like to criticize colleagues, even though "if you turn on Fox any night, it's the CNN, MSNBC criticism channel," likely because "we're actually talking about real news." Carlson is an opinion journalist who is exploiting the immigration issue for ratings, Lemon said, and the facts are that "studies show immigration has and continues to make this country a better, stronger, more productive and vibrant country."

The hosts both derided Carlson for using his platform to sow division, but said what he's doing is nothing new. When such blatant hate speech is on display, Cuomo said, "we need to call it out because it needs to stop." Watch the video below. Catherine Garcia

1:07 a.m.

"I tell you, I'm beginning to think Donald Trump destroys everyone he touches," Stephen Colbert mused on Tuesday's Late Show. "He is like the King Midas of crap," and "the latest Trump aide to hit the fan" is former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn was in court Tuesday to be sentenced for lying to the FBI, and President Trump "was on the sidelines, cheering him on," Colbert said, reading the relevant tweet, which he suggested amounted to "witness tampering in real time."

Flynn's lawyers argued last week that the FBI tricked him into lying by not telling him lying to the FBI is a crime, and the judge at the sentencing hearing, Emmet Sullivan, asked why he pleaded guilty, then. "Over and over, the judge asks Flynn, Do you really want to do this?" Colbert paraphrased. "He's like a tattoo artist at 2 a.m. with a drunk customer who keeps saying, 'No, I'm sure I want my whole back covered with a picture of Tweety Bird puking on Calvin.'" Judge Sullivan was less understanding when it came to Flynn's lobbying work for Turkey, and he told him so in no uncertain terms.

"Probably not a great sign when you're not charged with treason but the judge really wants to know why not," Colbert reasoned. After hinting at treasonous actions, Sullivan asked Flynn if he wanted to postpone his sentencing so he could try to lessen his punishment by cooperating more with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. "That's a tough call — that's like choosing between apples and decades in prison," Colbert explained. (Flynn chose the apples.) He ended with Trump's baffling personal war on Christmas, a holiday he reportedly doesn't like because it's not about him: "How self-obsessed can you get? I'd say he's Scrooge, but Trump would probably enjoy a visit from those ghosts." Watch below. Peter Weber

12:36 a.m.

More than 150 companies, including major tech organizations and online retailers, made arrangements with Facebook to have special access to users' personal data, even as the social media platform assured people that they had control over their own data, The New York Times reports.

The Times reviewed more than 270 pages of documents Facebook generated in 2017 to track the partnerships, and spoke with more than 50 former employees of the company and its corporate partners. Under the arrangement, partners were essentially exempt from the usual privacy rules, the Times reports. For example, Netflix and Spotify were granted permission to read users' private messages; Amazon was able to obtain the contact information of users through their friends; and Bing, the Microsoft search engine, was allowed to "see the names of virtually all Facebook users' friends without consent," the Times says.

The records show the that deals, all of them active in 2017, involved the data of hundreds of millions of users every month. The first deals were made in 2010. Steve Satterfield, Facebook's director of privacy and public policy, told the Times these partnerships did not violate the privacy of users or run afoul of the Federal Trade Commission's 2011 consent agreement that prohibited Facebook from sharing user data without permission. Read more about the arrangements — and why data privacy experts are skeptical of Facebook's claim that these partnerships were exempt from regulatory requirements — at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

12:14 a.m.

Former first lady Michelle Obama had a little fun with Jimmy Fallon for Tuesday's Tonight Show, and they threw in a little light exercise to boot. The elevator surprise idea is pretty simple — people believing they are taking a normal tour of 30 Rockefeller Center stop at a floor, only to get a glimpse of Fallon and then Obama, and then the doors close. Maybe the conversations inside the elevator got awkward and political on the ride down — this is still 2018, after all — but from what we can see, everyone seemed to have fun, there is legitimate elevator music, and you can watch below. Peter Weber

December 18, 2018

As 2018 winds to a close, "it feels like the whole country is still nursing a hangover from the 2016 presidential election — Trump is still obsessed with Hillary, Mueller is still investigating Trump, and Democrats are about to launch a slew of new investigations into his campaign," Trevor Noah said on Tuesday's Daily Show. "But now, over two years later, we're still about how deep the Russian rabbit hole goes," including the Kremlin's trolls targeting of one particular group. "It turns out, the Russians spent a lot of effort specifically trying to convince black Americans not to vote," Noah said — or to vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, same difference.

"Real black American" Dulcé Sloan came out to give her mixed reaction to the news. "Trevor, I feel disgusted, I feel manipulated, and I feel special," she said. "Russia could have gone after anyone — Latinos, Asians, millennials — but they said, We're going after the ones who count: black people. Can you believe that? I mean, some white people actually do think black lives matter." She had some suggestions for Washington. Watch below. Peter Weber

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