April 25, 2018

Audio of an October 2017 meeting between NFL owners, executives, and player leaders obtained by The New York Times reveals the conflict the league's management faced as President Trump ramped up his criticism of the national anthem protests last fall. "The problem we have is, we have a president who will use that as fodder to do his mission that I don't feel is in the best interests of America," New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft told the room, despite his close relationship with the president. "It's divisive and it's horrible."

The players in the room "sounded aggravated" on the topic of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who initiated kneeling during the national anthem, and how he remains unsigned — a fact many believe is the result of collusion by the owners. Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long announced that "we all agree in this room as players that he should be on a roster." The owners pushed back, with Houston Texans owner Bob McNair instructing the players to enforce no kneeling on their teams. "You fellas need to ask your compadres, fellas, stop that other business, let's go out and do something that really produces positive results," he said, "and we'll help you."

Afterward, Kraft suggested a statement with the word "unified" or "unity," with the final product claiming the executives, owners, and players discussed plans "to utilize our platform to promote equality and effectuate positive change." Read more about the tape obtained by The New York Times here. Jeva Lange

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

8:07 a.m.

Two years after Elon Musk, frustrated by traffic, dreamed up a high-speed tunneling system, we now have a glimpse at the concept in action.

Musk's Boring Company on Tuesday unveiled its first test tunnel in Hawthorne, California; it's 1.14 miles long and cost $10 million to construct, per CNN. The idea is eventually to have cars zip through the high-tech tunneling system at up to 150 miles per hour, but for this demonstration, the cars traveled closer to 35 miles per hour. Musk has described this as a "weird little Disney ride in the middle of L.A.," and indeed, a CNN reporter who tried it out observed that it "felt like an amusement park ride."

Musk believes tunnels could be an "actual solution to the soul-crushing burden of traffic," CNBC reports. The company hopes to build tunnels in Los Angeles and Chicago. Musk originally planned to have 16 people transported at a time via pods, but that idea was scrapped in favor of what's "much more like an underground highway," Musk told The New York Times.

Don't expect to use Boring Company tunnels for your commute anytime soon, though. Musk admits that they're "obviously at the early stages here" and called this example a prototype. Check out a video demonstration of the tunnel posted to The Boring Company's Twitter page below. Brendan Morrow

7:39 a.m.

President Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, claimed Sunday that nobody ever signed a letter of intent to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. It turns out, he was wrong: Trump himself signed the letter.

CNN on Tuesday obtained a copy of the Trump Tower Moscow letter of intent, which is from October 2015 and has Trump's signature on it. Although this was a non-binding agreement, its discovery is significant considering Giuliani claimed during an interview just two days earlier that "there was a letter of intent to go forward, but no one signed it."

While Trump repeatedly denied during the 2016 presidential election having any business in Russia, he was negotiating a major real-estate deal in the country. The deal did not end up moving forward. Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty last month to lying to the Senate about when these negotiations ended; he originally said they stopped by January 2016 but later admitted they continued for longer. Giuliani in a Sunday interview suggested the conversations continued all the way up to November 2016. Brendan Morrow

6:56 a.m.

With about a quarter of the federal government set to shut down at midnight on Friday and Congress and the White House still at an impasse over President Trump's demands for money for a border wall, the Senate Appropriations Committee is drafting a continuing resolution to finance the nine unfunded Cabinet-level departments at current levels through early February, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said late Tuesday. Lawmakers appear resigned to this short-term fix, eager to avoid a third partial shutdown this year, though Republicans are not sure what Trump would be willing to sign.

Trump isn't saying much, either. Earlier Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders softened the administration's opposition to any legislation that doesn't give Trump $5 billion for his wall. Instead, Sanders said Trump would accept $1.6 billion and find the remaining $3.4 billion from other agencies. There are "other ways" to fund the wall, she said, and Trump "has asked every agency to look and see if they have money that can be used." Trump has previous suggested he would raid the Pentagon budget for the money.

A $5 billion down payment on Trump's wall would be only 0.1 percent of the federal budget, The Washington Post notes, "but even moving around that amount of money could be considered illegal without congressional approval." On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proposed giving Trump $1.6 billion for border fencing and repairs plus another $1 billion from previously approved funding that Trump could use on the border wall, but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said no. "We cannot support the offer they made of a billion-dollar slush fund for the president to implement his very wrong immigration policies," Pelosi said. "So, that won't happen."

McConnell said he feels comfortable predicting that the government won't shut down before Christmas. Peter Weber

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