January 31, 2018

On Monday, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly told FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that President Trump is inclined to approve the release of a classified memo compiled by Republican staffers for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif)., but it would first be reviewed by the National Security Council and White House counsel's office. The Intelligence Committee then voted along party lines to release the Nunes memo, over the objections of the FBI and Justice Department, and block the release of a Democratic point-by-point rebuttal memo.

On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that contrary to a report claiming Trump planned to release the Nunes memo after his State of the Union address, "there are no current plans to release the House Intelligence Committee's memo. The president has not seen or been briefed on the memo or reviewed its contents." After the State of the Union address, Trump passed by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), and it sounded like his mind is pretty well made up, according to this exchange captured by C-SPAN.

"Let's release the memo," Duncan told Trump, who responded, "Oh yeah, don't worry, 100 percent." Trump can release the memo at any time or object to its release within five days.

It isn't clear what Trump or other White House officials know about the memo, which apparently purports to accuse FBI and Justice Department officials of abusing the FISA system to get court permission to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. On Monday, before the Intelligence Committee invoked the obscure rule to declassify the memo, citing "transparency," Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) asked Nunes if he or his staffers were in contact with the White House while compiling the memo, The Daily Beast reports. Nunes replied, "I'm not answering." Peter Weber

11:41 a.m.

Fox News' Tucker Carlson is fighting back against "spiritual neutering," one holiday cookie at a time.

On Tuesday's Tucker Carlson Tonight, contributor Tammy Bruce brought up some very disturbing news: A gingerbread man is now sometimes referred to as a "gingerbread person." It's just the latest development in "a series of living your entire life being bullied into what you can and cannot say," Bruce says. And it shows that "just the smallest thing... can be the tipping point" in policing speech, she said about the name of a cookie on national TV.

Nevertheless, Carlson is onboard with Bruce's assessment, and suggests "the rest of us shouldn't participate in our own spiritual neutering." Again, they are discussing a cookie.

Fellow PC-fighting personality Piers Morgan also pointed out this troublesome development in a Tuesday tweet. More troublesome is the fact that gingerbread persons live in homes made from their own bodies, but that's a debate for another Fox News day.

11:16 a.m.

CBS officially ousted Les Moonves without a $120 million severance earlier this week — but not before covering some major bills along the way.

The network dropped its CEO in September amid sexual misconduct allegations, which he has denied. Yet for two months afterward, CBS still covered Moonves' legal and executive fees, per a termination agreement agreed to in September and obtained by The New York Times Tuesday.

Misconduct accusations against Moonves first surfaced in a bombshell New Yorker report that was followed by a wave of more allegations. Moonves said three of the instances were consensual and denied knowledge of the rest. CBS terminated Moonves in September and continued an investigation into the claims, but still covered his "executive expenses" until the investigation concluded Monday. Those expenses could include legal fees that could've "easily run up to $20 million" and perhaps even $40-50 million, law professor and Times contributor Peter Henning says.

Sure, the investigation concluded Monday that CBS had cause to terminate Moonves without granting a $120 million severance. But CBS still had to pay to defend itself along the way, "probably facing substantially more than $50 million in fees" since September, Times columnist James B. Stewart writes. Moonves countered investigators' claims that he obstructed the investigation, saying Tuesday the matter was "far from over" and suggesting he'll continue to challenge CBS in court.

With no end to the legal saga in sight, CBS will likely conclude it's "cheaper to simply settle" with Moonves instead of "essentially pay[ing] someone they fired to sue them," Henning says. Read more of this column at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:15 a.m.

President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria isn't sitting well with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

The Republican senator, typically one of Trump's biggest supporters, tweeted Wednesday that withdrawing troops from Syria "would be a huge Obama-like mistake." Graham also objected to Trump's claim that ISIS has been defeated in the country, saying, "With all due respect, ISIS is not defeated in Syria, Iraq, and after just returning from visiting there -- certainly not Afghanistan."

Graham said that withdrawing from Syria will "put our allies, the Kurds at risk" and will "be viewed as a boost to ISIS desire to come back." Meanwhile, other members of the Republican party celebrated Trump's announcement, with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) tweeting, "I am happy to see a President who can declare victory and bring our troops out of a war. It's been a long time since that has happened." Brendan Morrow

11:10 a.m.

One of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' predecessors has offered a pretty brutal assessment of her job performance.

Joe Lockhart, who served as press secretary under former President Bill Clinton, told CNN Wednesday that Sanders is "not doing her job," per Mediaite. A White House press secretary has to "adhere to the truth," he said, arguing that she no longer does that. The CNN panel was specifically discussing Sanders' claim Tuesday afternoon that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was "ambushed" by the FBI, which she insisted is the case despite Flynn saying in court that the FBI did not entrap him and that he knowingly lied to them though he knew it was a crime.

Lockhart went on to say that the rest of the world used to be able to trust the U.S. government, but they don't anymore. "We don't send out Baghdad Bob or Tokyo Rose," he said. "We send out people that the rest of the people can count on. And right now we've abdicated that, across the board and in many ways." Watch Lockhart's comments below. Brendan Morrow

11:07 a.m.

Did House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) live up to expectations?

That's the question Republicans are asking this week as Ryan, once considered the future of the party, retires from Congress. While lawmakers were quick to offer praise of the departing speaker, some Republicans, both off and on the record, told The Washington Post they've been fairly unhappy with Ryan's tenure.

The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, for instance, said, "it's been a disappointing couple of years" of Ryan's leadership since President Trump took office. He added, "He was in a tough situation and didn't make the best of it." Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) made a similar observation, saying, “Two years have gone by and not much has been done."

During Ryan's tenure as speaker, the U.S. deficit has gone up nearly $350 billion, despite Ryan touting himself as a deficit hawk. The national debt also grew by $1.9 trillion. Ryan himself has said this is one of his regrets, and the Post reports that a number of Ryan's longtime friends said off-the-record that they're disappointed in his speakership, although they declined to say so publicly. One anonymous friend of Ryan's said, "Paul doesn't want to believe it’s all as bad as it is." Even those who like Ryan personally, the Post reports, are "grappling with whether he is responsible, alongside Trump, for the party’s drift."

Still, Ryan's colleagues have much more kind things to say about him, with some saying they appreciate that he took on a "thankless job;" allies have also said it's not fair to blame him solely for the rising debt, arguing he "would have done more if he had felt he could." Ryan's aides in discussing his legacy also point to the House's passage of bills concerning health care and food stamps, two bills that, as the Post points out, never actually became law. Brendan Morrow

10:01 a.m.

The U.S. will withdraw its more than 2,000 troops from Syria immediately, a defense official tells The Washington Post.

Officials told The New York Times on Wednesday that President Trump was "considering" removing all the troops "as quickly as possible," and The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday their removal from at least northeast Syria was finalized. Now, an anonymous official tells the Post that Trump decided Tuesday to remove all troops from the country, concluding its "campaign against the Islamic State." Trump went on to declare victory against ISIS in a tweet Wednesday.

Trump has spent months pushing to get troops out of Syria, despite objection from top officials who say continued U.S. presence could counter a potential return of ISIS. Officials also said America should maintain its influence in the area to prevent other world powers such as Russia and Iran from stepping in. Their prodding reportedly convinced Trump to backtrack in August, but Wednesday's revelation seems to show Trump is back to his old promise.

The "full" withdrawal of about 2,000 U.S. troops will be "rapid," an official also told CNN on Wednesday. It's meant to back up Trump's insistence that America has defeated ISIS forces in the region, sources told the Journal. It comes after a nasty phone call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week, in which Erdogan "threatened to launch an assault on America's Kurdish partners in Syria," the Journal writes.

An official announcement of the move "could come as early as Wednesday," but some Pentagon officials are still trying to talk Trump out of it, the Times says.

8:49 a.m.

Disney fans ain't never had a Genie like Will Smith.

The first images of Smith's version of the character in Disney's live-action Aladdin were revealed Wednesday via Entertainment Weekly. The first thing you'll notice is that he's not blue like in the animated version, although that doesn't mean he won't appear that way in the movie at all. EW reports that "the final version of Will Smith's Genie in his blue floating lamp form isn't quite finished."

Smith certainly has large shoes to fill by taking over for the late Robin Williams, but he told EW that he hopes to deliver a take on the character that is "an homage to Robin Williams" but still "musically different." Indeed, he said he'll be bringing some "hip-hop flavor" to the Disney universe, with one executive describing the character as part Fresh Prince, part Hitch. The "flavor of the character" will be "different enough" from the Williams version so that it's not trying to "compete" with it, Smith explained.

Entertainment Weekly's cover story reveals some other details about the movie: Smith's Genie will definitely be singing "Friend Like Me," and Jasmine will get a new solo number that wasn't in the original film. She'll also have a best friend character to play off of, with director Guy Ritchie saying he hopes to make her a "more rounded character.".

Disney's Aladdin hits theaters on May 24. Brendan Morrow

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