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October 11, 2018

President Trump is under increasing pressure to find out if Saudi Arabia really murdered or abducted dissident Washington-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during an Oct. 2 visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, as Turkey says. A bipartisan group of 22 senators sent Trump a letter on Wednesday triggering a law that forces the administration to investigate Khashoggi's disappearance, leading to sanctions if Saudi Arabia is found responsible.

The White House insists Trump is taking the situation seriously. The Trump administration is "very engaged on this issue," State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said Wednesday. "Senior officials, diplomats are speaking to both the kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as the government of Turkey, and we're using diplomatic channels." At the same time, Palladino tiptoed around the fact that the U.S. has no ambassador to either country, as Associated Press reporter Matt Lee pointed out:

Q: Who again — what's the name of the ambassador in Turkey right now?

PALLADINO: I don't have that in front of me right now and I – Matt —

Q: What's the name of the ambassador in Saudi Arabia right now?

PALLADINO: I see what you're getting at. Okay. We are confident in our diplomatic —

Q: The answer is that you don't have an ambassador in either place, right?

PALLADINO: We —

Q: And in fact, the charge in Riyadh has now been nominated to be the ambassador to Yemen. So just is it correct that you do not have ambassadors in place in either Ankara or Riyadh?

PALLADINO: But we have diplomatic staff, senior diplomatic officials —

Q: I'm sure you do. [State Department transcript]

Palladino went on to "reiterate our request for our colleagues in the Senate" to help the State Department "get its full team on the field," and Lee asked who Trump wanted the Senate to confirm to the vacant Saudi and Turkey ambassadorships. Palladino said he didn't "have that in front of me right now." "You're sure someone's been nominated for both positions?" Lee asked. Palladino said he'd have to check. According to the American Foreign Service Association, Trump has nominated nobody for either ambassadorship. Peter Weber

9:28 a.m.

In case there was any doubt that 2018 has lasted approximately 200 years, take a look at the Time "Person of the Year" shortlist. It is ... exhausting:

Remember the North Korea summit, a few short lifetimes ago? Or the Royal Wedding, which feels like a distant, hazy dream? And how about March for Our Lives, which either took place in March or the Paleoarchean Era (both seem equally plausible)?

There is only one takeaway from all this: Make 2019 the year of the nap. Jeva Lange

9:22 a.m.

When President Trump makes a false claim, he doesn't just do so once or twice. He repeats it over and over again, even after being corrected.

Nobody knows that better than the fact-checkers at The Washington Post, who have meticulously examined virtually every one of the president's claims and in November found that he made more than 6,000 false statements since being inaugurated. This has inspired the Post to introduce an entirely new rating for their fact-checker section, which normally operates on a one-to-four Pinocchio scale: the Bottomless Pinocchio.

This, the Post explains, is a rating given out to "politicians who repeat a false claim so many times that they are, in effect, engaging in campaigns of disinformation." In other words, it's for Trump, who the Post writes is "not merely making gaffes or misstating things" but is "purposely injecting false information into the national conversation."

In order to receive a Bottomless Pinocchio, a politician must repeat a claim that has received a rating of three or four Pinocchios at least 20 times. Don't be surprised to see Trump rack up the Bottomless Pinocchio ratings, considering according to the Post, 14 of his false statements - one of which has been repeated 87 times - already qualify. Read more about the new rating at The Washington Post. Brendan Morrow

8:46 a.m.

President Trump on Monday again declared on Twitter that there was no collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia, although he did not earn high marks for spelling in the process.

In response to former FBI Director James Comey's recent Congressional testimony, Trump declared while citing Fox News that Democrats failed to find a "Smocking Gun." He spelled the word "smoking" incorrectly for a second time in the next sentence, going on to insist that his former lawyer Michael Cohen's payment of hush money to two women was a "simple private transaction" and not a "campaign contribution." But even if it wasn't on the up and up, then it's his "lawyer's liability if he made a mistake, not me," Trump wrote.

Trump over the summer deleted and reposted a tweet in which he also incorrectly spelled the word "smoking." Brendan Morrow

8:03 a.m.

The domestic box office fell to a three-year low in 2017, but with the help of superheroes, dinosaurs, and Lady Gaga, this year is set to shatter records.

ComScore estimates that the domestic box office will reach $11 billion by Tuesday or Wednesday of this week, which means it will have taken either 345 or 346 days to do so, Deadline reports. That would be the quickest the U.S. box office has ever reached $11 billion, with the previous record being 361 days in 2016, a year when the final yearly total ended up being $11.3 billion. That year, only $10.3 billion had been grossed by this point in December.

That's great news for Hollywood after the total domestic box office just barely reached $11 billion last year and saw a 6.2 percent decline in tickets sold over 2016, per Box Office Mojo. But 2018 delivered two new entries into the all-time top five highest grossing films domestically: Black Panther, which grossed $700 million, and Avengers: Infinity War, which grossed $678 million. Three films this year made more than $600 million domestically (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Incredibles 2), whereas in 2017, only Star Wars: The Last Jedi was able to cross that threshold, and no movie did so in 2016 at all.

The $11 billion total will be reached long before the massively profitable Christmas season, and this year, Star Wars' absence from cinemas has left room for five major blockbusters: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Mortal Engines, Aquaman, Bumblebee, and Mary Poppins Returns. The box office is currently on pace to finish somewhere around $11.7 billion or $11.8 billion, which would already be the best year ever, but Deadline writes that depending on how this upcoming holiday brawl shakes out, it's entirely possible 2018 could reach $12 billion for the first time in history. Brendan Morrow

7:44 a.m.

In August 2016, when Hillary Clinton was widely expected to be elected president, Argentina's new president regaled Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior U.S. officials with a story about Clinton's underdog rival, Donald Trump, Axios reports. Argentina's Mauricio Macri, elected president in 2015, has a long history with Trump, dating back to a contentious business deal between Trump and Macri's father. So Macri was surprised, he told the Americans, when Trump called him up out of the blue during Macri's campaign to offer help.

As Macri reportedly told the story, imitating Trump during the recounting, Trump told him he'd been watching Macri, adding, "I remember you fondly and I remember the business deal." Since the deal hadn't gone well, Macri said, he responded: "Fondly? Fondly, you son of a gun?" Then Trump offered help, and Macri shrugged it off until a FedEx envelope with a check arrived. The three people who told Axios the story couldn't agree on whether Trump's check was for $500 or $5,000, but they all remembered the punch line: "It bounced."

The White House declined to comment to Axios, and Argentina denied that the conversation ever took place. "The conversation certainly did take place," Axios rebuts. "It's not conceivable that our three sources could have colluded to make this up." Still, Macri's administration has diplomatic and practical reasons to deny the story: Trump tends to take public slights seriously and if the anecdote's true, Macri would have technically broken Argentina's rarely enforced restrictions against accepting foreign campaign donations. Peter Weber

6:55 a.m.

French President Emmanuel Macron will make his first public comments on a month of "yellow vest" protests in Paris and other cities in a nationally televised address Monday night. The protests started in opposition to a fuel tax Macron's government had scheduled, but they've since transformed into a movement mobilized against his economic policies, many viewed as tilted toward the wealthy. Macron's decision to scrap the fuel tax did not dampen a fourth weekend protest on Saturday, where about 1,000 of the 136,000 yellow vest protesters were arrested and 71 people injured in Paris. Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said Sunday that Macron "will know how to find the path to the hearts of the French," but there is no "magic wand" to resolve the growing list of yellow vest demands. Peter Weber

6:22 a.m.

Lawmakers are considering a wide range of legislation in the final days of the current Congress, but the only bills they need to pass are the seven remaining spending measures to keep the federal government running past a current deadline of Dec. 21. The most contentious of the remaining spending bills is for the Department of Homeland Security, with President Trump demanding $5 billion for his proposed border wall and Democrats saying no. Trump is set to meet with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — likely the incoming House speaker — and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday to discuss the impasse. Democrats say that, based on Trump's past reneging on legislative deals, they have low expectations for the talks. Peter Weber

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