April 19, 2018

President Trump entered office believing that his legacy-defining deal would be Middle East peace, but he doesn't talk about that anymore — "the peace deal looks dead and cremated," so "there's very little point," says Jonathan Swan at Axios. Instead, Trump now sees the North Korea situation as his "great man" moment, Swan reports, and "sources close to him say he genuinely believes he — and he alone — can overcome the seemingly intractable disaster on the Korean Peninsula."

Trump "definitely thinks it's a duel of personalities," a source familiar with the president's thinking on North Korea tells Axios. Another added, "He thinks, 'Just get me in the room with the guy [Kim Jong Un] and I'll figure it out.'" People close to Trump told Swan that Trump viewed his Twitter brinkmanship with Kim as "pretty intentionally calibrated," though one source said, "I'm not sure people thought it was a coherent strategy, and certainly I don't think the Pentagon signed off on it." And Trump's aides are much more skeptical than the president about the chances of success in the Trump-Kim summit, if it happens.

All "great men" probably faced skeptics, too, and personally tackling the North Korea standoff is a high-risk proposition for Trump that promises high rewards, if successful. If not, North Korea is a burgeoning nuclear power. "If the meeting, when I'm there, is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting," Trump said at a press conference Wednesday. Peter Weber

2:59 p.m.

Rudy Giuliani is convinced Special Counsel Robert Mueller won't get to question President Trump. Fox News' Judge Andrew Napolitano has a reality check.

In an interview with Fox News' Chris Wallace on Sunday, Trump's lawyer declared Mueller's investigation a "joke" and said the special counsel would get to question the president "over my dead body." But Napolitano, who serves as Fox News' legal analyst, told Fox News' Bill Hemmer on Monday that wasn't quite true.

While Giuliani's message was intended to be a message to Mueller, "Rudy knows that, one way or another, Mueller gets to question the president," Napolitano said. It might be "one-on-one with Rudy whispering answers in the president's ear," Napolitano said, or it could be "before a grand jury without Rudy there," he said.

Monday's comments mark the latest in Napolitano's skeptical streak on Fox News airwaves. On Wednesday, Napolitano told Fox News' Shep Smith that federal prosecutors "have evidence" that Trump "committed a felony by ordering and paying [his former lawyer] Michael Cohen to break the law." And on Thursday, things got a little more harsh, with Napolitano going on a fact-checking spree against hosts and guests on Fox & Friends. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:23 p.m.

The observable limits of the solar system just stretched even further.

The International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center on Monday announced the discovery of a dwarf planet, 2018 VG18, located 120 astronomical units from the sun, reports CNN. It's the most distant object ever observed in the solar system so far, beating out Eris, the dwarf planet located 96 astronomical units away from the sun that previously held that distinction. One astronomical unit translates into 93 million miles, i.e. the distance between the Earth and the sun, and Pluto is located at 34 astronomical units.

The dwarf planet, which scientists are appropriately nicknaming "Farout," is described as round and pinkish, with a diameter of about 311 miles. Researchers believe it may have an ice-rich body based on the color.

This discovery came as part of a team of astronomers' search for distant objects in the solar system, including the possibility of a ninth planet, per Carnegie Science. They say that it will "take a few years" to determine the orbit of this dwarf planet, but they believe it likely takes it more than 1,000 years to take a single trip around the sun. Brendan Morrow

1:56 p.m.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has an ambitious to-do list for 2019, and legalizing recreational marijuana is right at the top.

In a Monday speech revealing his plans for the first 100 days of his new term, Cuomo said he'd push to "legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana." Cuomo had been resistant to legalization as recently as last year, calling weed a "gateway drug," but his new take would put New York in line with 10 other states that have legalized and taxed marijuana, The New York Times notes.

Cuomo acknowledged Monday his view had changed, citing a report compiled by New York's health department in July that showed the "positive effects" of legalization outweigh the negatives. He said current criminalization of marijuana use has "for too long targeted the African American and minority communities," and added that the $1.7 billion in potential marijuana sales could bring in much-needed tax dollars. That revenue could fund education or other public works, or, as some suggest, much-needed repairs to New York City's subway system.

Cuomo's push to change marijuana legislation comes after a Quinnipiac University poll in May showed 63 percent of New Yorkers backed the legalization of recreational marijuana. Neighboring New Jersey has indicated it could legalize weed by January 2019, and Massachusetts took the plunge in 2016.

Also in Monday's speech, Cuomo pledged to make New York carbon neutral by 2040, per CBS News. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:10 p.m.

Two of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's former associates have been hit with indictments.

Bijan Kian and Ekim Alptekin were charged Monday with counts of conspiracy and illegally acting as agents of a foreign government, reports CNN. The Justice Department says they were both involved in a "conspiracy to covertly influence U.S. politicians and public opinion" against Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania whose extradition has been requested by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The two men sought to delegitimize Gulen with the goal of getting him extradited, all while hiding the fact that they were being directed by the government of Turkey, the DOJ says. Flynn's lobbying firm, Flynn Intel Group, was used as part of this effort, NBC News reports.

Additionally, Alptekin is charged with four counts of making false statements to the FBI. Documents that have been unsealed as part of this case show that Flynn was working to promote Turkey's agenda even as he was angling for a role in President Trump's administration, per The Washington Post. Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced for lying to the FBI on Tuesday and has previously admitted to lying about participating in lobbying for Turkey, per Politico. Brendan Morrow

1:01 p.m.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is about to start his last two years in the Senate.

The 78-year-old senator announced Monday he would not run for re-election in 2020, seemingly hinting at his retirement. A longtime politician, Alexander served as Tennessee's governor from 1979 to 1987 and as the Secretary of Education before heading to the Senate in 2003.

Alexander thanked "the people of Tennessee" for "electing me to serve more combined years as governor and senator than anyone else from our state," he said in his Monday statement. "But now it is time for someone else to have that privilege," Alexander continued.

Fellow Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker didn't run for re-election in 2018, and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) won his seat. Corker quickly responded to Alexander's news with a statement of his own. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:56 p.m.

Working in big cheese is really starting to stink.

American cheese exports are down drastically this year, largely thanks to Mexico and China issuing dairy tariffs in response to President Trump's trade war. Now, there's a 1.4 billion pound pileup in cold storage facilities across the country as cheddar prices continue to tank, The Wall Street Journal reports.

U.S. cheesemakers are currently sitting on the largest stockpile in recorded history. But it's not because Americans aren't tolerating the lactose, seeing as they "ate a record 37 pounds of natural cheese per capita last year," the Journal says. It's because cheesemakers increased production to meet that higher demand, only to see it sliced amid Trump's trade war. Mexico's intake of American cheese went down by more than 10 percent in the past year after issuing tariffs on cheese and whey, while China's imports fell by 63 percent, per the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

Americans are also largely rejecting traditional American slices in favor of foreign varieties like Gouda and Havarti. Mexican and Chinese buyers would've typically gobbled up the processed slices, but in the face of the trade conflict, that cheese is simply aging away in cold storage. Cheddar prices are down 24 percent this year from 2014 prices, leading producers to worry tariffs "could eat into profits," the Journal writes. Milk prices are also down 40 percent from 2014, and more than 600 dairy farms in Wisconsin have closed this year.

Read more about the cheese crisis at The Wall Street Journal, or answer this poll/trivia question from the Department of Agriculture, who clearly didn't read the cheese-filled room when tweeting. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:06 p.m.

Instagram, not Facebook, may be Russia's most effective tool for spreading propaganda.

A new report prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee shows that posts from the Russian Internet Research Agency, a troll farm, received 187 million interactions on Instagram from 2015 through 2018, and only 77 million interactions on Facebook and 73 million on Twitter, reports Bloomberg.

This suggests Instagram has been a much more significant factor in Russia's attempt to manipulate American politics through social media than previously thought, and the report notes that this is "something that Facebook executives appear to have avoided mentioning in congressional testimony." The researchers also say that Instagram could be "more ideal" for spreading propaganda through memes than other platforms and that it is "likely to be a key battleground on an ongoing basis."

Additionally, the report says that not only did Russian trolls seek to promote President Trump's campaign and damage Hillary Clinton's, but the "most prolific IRA efforts on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted black American communities," The New York Times reports. While the Russian troll farm targeted some other specific groups with a handful of accounts and pages, "the black community was targeted extensively with dozens," researchers conclude. On Facebook, for instance, among 81 Facebook pages the IRA created, 30 targeted black Americans. Efforts to encourage people to skip voting or vote against Clinton targeted both black Americans and supporters of Clinton's primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Read more at The New York Times. Brendan Morrow

See More Speed Reads