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May 16, 2018

Fox & Friends hosts are on board with most of the Trump administration's choices, so it's mystifying to them why any White House staffer wouldn't be.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders appeared on the Fox News morning show Wednesday, where the hosts grilled her about how much information has been leaked from administration staffers to the press.

"What is going on at the White House, because it looks like the president can't even trust his own staff?" host Steve Doocy asked Sanders. The press secretary ranted against anyone who would leak information, calling the act "disgusting" and "shameful" and vowing to fire anyone who did it. But Doocy wanted a better explanation than that: "Sarah, why do they do it?" he asked. "Are they just trying to stab other staff members in the back? Are they trying to advance their political agenda? Are they trying to set the record straight? What the heck is going on?!"

Sanders couldn't explain why staffers would be motivated to leak, but she did accuse some of making up false information to pass along to reporters. Watch the exchange below, via Fox News. Summer Meza

10:18 a.m.

Another election, another DNC hack?

The Democratic National Committee is piling onto its ongoing lawsuit against President Trump's 2016 campaign, Russia, and others, saying it was the intended victim of yet another cyberattack. Hackers — likely Russian ones — unsuccessfully tried to infiltrate DNC email addresses just days after the 2018 midterms, ABC News reports via court documents filed late Thursday night.

The DNC first faced a major hack in the summer of 2016 when thousands of its emails were posted on WikiLeaks by an alleged Russian agent. As the 2018 midterms approached, the threat of Russian interference and any hacking at all actually appeared pretty minimal, but this new court filing suggests those previous assumptions may not quite be true.

In Thursday's filing, the DNC alleged that "on Nov. 14, 2018, dozens of DNC email addresses were targeted in a spear-phishing campaign." The campaign didn't appear successful, the filing said. But the timing of the attack and the methods used resemble the work of a Russian hacking group alleged to have conducted the 2016 hack, the DNC claims, leading it to say "it is probable that Russian intelligence again attempted to unlawfully infiltrate DNC computers in November 2018."

These allegations add to the heap the DNC has already levied against the Trump campaign, its former chair Paul Manafort, Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange, and the entire Russian federation, among many others. Read more about the new accusations at ABC News. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:39 a.m.

One of the reporters who broke the bombshell story suggesting President Trump directed his attorney to lie to Congress says he hasn't directly seen the hard evidence, but he's still completely confident the story is correct.

BuzzFeed News' Anthony Cormier spoke with CNN about the article he worked on with Jason Leopold, which set off a firestorm and which the House Intelligence Committee says it will investigate. Some have expressed skepticism about the report, so CNN asked Cormier if he has directly seen evidence that Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, i.e. the emails, texts, and other documents mentioned in the story.

"No, I have not seen it personally," Cormier said while adding that the two law enforcement officials mentioned in the report are "fully 100 percent read in to that aspect of the special counsel's investigation." Cormier said his sources began to compile evidence that Trump suborned perjury even before Cohen started to cooperate with Robert Mueller, and "it's our understanding that this is rock solid information developed over the course of a long period of time."

Later in the interview, when CNN's Alisyn Camerota asked Cormier how he can be certain about the report, he confidently replied, "I am rock solid. My sourcing on this goes beyond the two that are on the record. This 100 percent happened. I am the individual who confirmed and verified that it happened." He added, "we've been able to verify this in other ways."

Watch a portion of CNN's interview with Cormier below. Brendan Morrow

9:17 a.m.

A new report from BuzzFeed News suggesting President Trump directed his former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress set off a firestorm in Democratic circles and sparked some to call for Trump's swift impeachment. But many conservatives are urging caution, saying the allegations should be treated with skepticism.

Conservative Erick Erickson pointed to a few reasons he's taking the allegations with a grain of salt. First of all, the BuzzFeed story claims Special Counsel Robert Mueller learned that Trump directed Cohen to lie, in part, by speaking with members of the Trump Organization. But, Erickson points out, ABC's John Santucci says his reporting on the matter has not turned up any members of the Trump Organization who say they've been interviewed by Mueller's team.

Other conservatives seem suspicious because this new information was not mentioned in Cohen's plea deal. The Daily Wire's Ryan Saavedra dismissed the report, pointing to other Russia-related stories he says were not subsequently corroborated:

The Washington Examiner's Byron York summarizes what seems to lie ahead, writing: "Looks like we're in another 'big if true' cycle of the Trump-Russia matter."

"If this story is correct, it's both inexcusable behavior and a full-scale disaster for Trump," The Daily Wire's Ben Shapiro tweeted. Conservative blogger Allahpundit put the whole thing in pretty simple black-and-white terms, saying: "Either Trump's finished or BuzzFeed's credibility is."

Read the entire report at BuzzFeed News. Brendan Morrow

8:56 a.m.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Friday that the electric-car maker is cutting its full-time staff by 7 percent as it struggles to cut prices and ramp up production of its Model 3 sedan, the company's first mass-market vehicle, CNN reports.

The job reductions follow other cost-cutting measures as Tesla struggles to expand profitability. Musk wrote in an email to Tesla employees that the company is "up against massive, entrenched competitors" and has to work "much harder than other manufacturers to survive while building affordable, sustainable products," reports CNBC. He added that building "affordable clean energy products at scale necessarily requires extreme effort and relentless creativity."

Tesla shares fell on the news, declining by nearly 6 percent in premarket trading. Read more at CNBC. Harold Maass

7:48 a.m.

A line of questioning from William Barr's confirmation hearing has taken on far greater significance after a new report about President Trump.

Trump's nominee for attorney general made clear multiple times during his hearing earlier this week that if a president commits the behavior Trump has since been accused of committing, this would be obstruction of justice. He said as much when Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) asked him, "A president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction, is that right?" Barr responded simply, "Yes," The Washington Post reports.

In case it wasn't clear enough, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) separately asked Barr, "If there was some reason to believe that the president tried to coach somebody not to testify or to testify falsely, that could be obstruction of justice?" Barr responded, "Yes." Barr had previously written in June 2018, "Obviously, the President and any other official can commit obstruction in this classic sense of sabotaging a proceeding’s truth-finding function."

This is precisely what a new report from BuzzFeed alleges: that Trump personally directed his then-attorney, Michael Cohen, to commit perjury by falsely telling Congress a business deal with Russia ended long before it actually did. Cohen in November pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, and BuzzFeed quotes two federal law enforcement officials as saying Cohen has informed Special Counsel Robert Mueller that Trump directed him to make these false statements. Mueller reportedly already knew this through separate interviews with multiple witnesses.

Trump has not yet personally responded to the report, but his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, released a statement dismissing Cohen's credibility. Brendan Morrow

7:13 a.m.

The newest tell-all memoir from a former aide to President Trump is by someone you've probably never heard of, Cliff Sims, a former Trump campaign and White House communications staffer. But he has a story to tell, according to an excerpt of his upcoming book, Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House, acquired by Axios.

In 2017, after talking to Trump on the phone the night before, Sims snuck into Trump's private study off the Oval Office via the private dining room, he recalls. The point of the secrecy was to hide that Sims was going to participate in a mole hunt of sorts, for "White House officials" who had been leaking stories about Trump. "Give me their names,” Trump told Sims, he writes, describing Trump's eyes as "narrowing" when he spoke. "I want these people out of here. I'm going to take care of this. We're going to get rid of all the snakes, even the bottom-­feeders." The only people above suspicion, it seems, were Ivanka Trump and maybe Jared Kushner. Sims writes:

Only in retrospect did I see how remarkable this was. I was sitting there with the president of the United States basically compiling an enemies list — but these enemies were within his own administration. ... The president proceeded to name White House staffer after White House staffer. Almost no one was deemed beyond reproach — not his chief of staff, not senior aides, almost no one other than those with whom he shared a last name. He wanted me to help him judge their loyalty. How, I wondered, had it come to this? [Cliff Sims, via Axios]

In the end, Trump's internal "enemies list," written in black Sharpie, contained about 10 enemies and five friends, Sims recalls. "Most of the targets survived, at least for a while," Axios says. You can read more at Axios. Peter Weber

5:58 a.m.

The first bill House Democrats introduced after taking control in January was ambitious legislation promising to reduce money in politics, expand voting rights, and crack down on corruption in Washington. The bill, HR 1, is "not going to go anywhere," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in December. And he explained why in an op-ed in The Washington Post late Thursday.

McConnell's op-ed, which focused on HR 1's voting rights and campaign finance aspects, could be read as a response to one published by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) in late November. They describe the bill very differently:

McConnell: "Their bill proposes making Election Day a new paid holiday," or an "extra taxpayer-funded vacation for bureaucrats."

Pelosi: "Let's make it easier, not harder, to vote."

McConnell: "Pelosi and company are pitching new taxpayer subsidies, including a 600 percent government match for certain political donations and a new voucher program that would funnel even more public dollars to campaigns."

Pelosi: "We must also empower hard-working Americans in our democracy by building a 21st-century campaign-finance system ... to increase and multiply the power of small donors" over "wealthy special interests."

McConnell: "Egregiously, the legislation dedicates hundreds of pages to federalizing the electoral process. It would make states mimic the practices that recently caused California to incorrectly register 23,000 ineligible voters. It would make it harder for states to fix inaccurate data in their voter rolls."

Pelosi: "We will promote national automatic voter registration, bolster our critical election infrastructure against foreign attackers, and put an end to partisan gerrymandering once and for all by establishing federal guidelines to outlaw the practice."

McConnell: "Many more Americans would have to notify the feds when spending even small amounts of money on speech or else be penalized."

Pelosi: "Let's rein in the unaccountable 'dark money' unleashed by the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision by requiring all political organizations to disclose their donors."

This "naked attempt to change the rules of American politics," McConnell writes, "should be called the Democrat Politician Protection Act." Pelosi agrees HR 1 "will ultimately change the balance of power in Washington," though away from "special interests" and toward "hard-working Americans." Peter Weber

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