December 5, 2018

President Trump has ordered the federal government to shut down Wednesday and declared a national day of mourning for former President George H.W. Bush, who died Friday at age 94. Trump will attend but not speak at Bush's funeral at Washington National Cathedral on Wednesday; Bush's son and fellow ex-president George W. Bush will give a eulogy, as will former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and presidential historian Jon Meacham.

After the funeral, Bush's body will be flown back to Houston, where it will lie in repose at St. Martin's Episcopal Church. Bush will be buried Thursday next to wife Barbara and daughter Robin in a family plot at Texas A&M University in College Station.

Among those who paid their respect to Bush on Tuesday were three fellow former CIA directors, his short-term service dog Sully, and former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), a fellow World War II veteran and onetime fierce political rival. You can watch Dole salute Bush's casket below. Peter Weber

8:45 a.m.

The United States and the Taliban are inching closer to a peace settlement, but it won't be easy, The Associated Press reports.

A reduction in violence agreement between the two sides went into effect early Saturday in Afghanistan, and the U.S. has halted offensive operations. If it's successful, the week-long truce will be followed by a peace accord, scheduled to be signed Feb. 29, wrapping up the 18-year conflict and paving the way for American troops to gradually head home. If that deal is signed, the Afghan government plans to launch its own negotiations with the Taliban.

But U.S. military officials do not anticipate a smooth process. It will reportedly be challenging to determine if any attacks — which are anticipated to be carried by so-called "spoilers" who are opposed to peace talks from happening at all — in the next week will breach the truce because of the decentralized nature of the Taliban's operations. "There are going to be a lot of opportunities for any militia commander, element of the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and other local forces who don't want to seal a deal, to conduct violence," said Seth Jones, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Officials said Washington, Kabul, and the Taliban will maintain a channel to discuss any issues, such as allowing the Taliban to deny responsibility for an attack. Still, the "case-by-case" assessment will likely be difficult, and nobody is precisely sure how the U.S. will measure success. Read more at The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

7:56 a.m.

President Trump is telling his staff he wants to block the publication of former National Security Adviser John Bolton's forthcoming book until after he leaves office, The Washington Post reports.

The book, titled The Room Where It Happened promises to reveal a firsthand account of interactions between Trump and Bolton (which reportedly includes a conversation in which Trump said he ordered the Ukraine quid pro quo), has a scheduled release date of March 17. But the National Security Council warned Bolton last month after reviewing his draft that it contains "significant amounts of classified information." Still, Bolton was told the council will try to make sure it gets published.

Trump, on the other hand, has reportedly privately called Bolton a "traitor" and argues every conversation in the book between Bolton and Trump should be considered classified. He also reportedly brings the book up frequently with his team, asking for news on whether Bolton will be allowed to go forward with publication.

Two sources familiar with the matter told the Post that Trump has insisted the book remain on the backburner until at least after the November the election, while Trump himself reportedly told television news anchors during an off-the-record lunch earlier this month that Bolton "can do this" after his presidency, "but not in the White House."

Bolton is reportedly growing concerned the White House will claim a large amount of details are classified without specifying why, which could set up a long legal battle over the publication. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

February 21, 2020

WarnerMedia has dropped some news that, if you're a Friends fan, might just make your day, your week, your month, or even your year.

A Friends reunion special has been officially announced for WarnerMedia's upcoming streaming service, HBO Max, where the classic sitcom will also find its new home after its departure from Netflix. To be clear, this won't be a new episode of Friends, but rather an unscripted special in which the cast reunites on the soundstage where the series was shot for what's described as "a celebration of the beloved show."

The special had previously been rumored, but it was officially confirmed on Friday. Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer are all on board, and Variety reports they'll each be paid at least $2.5 million, not too shabby at all for what essentially sounds like a DVD bonus feature.

As far as an actual revival of the series goes, don't get your hopes up: creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman have repeatedly ruled it out, meaning this is about as close as we're likely ever going to get.

Still, being able to promote HBO Max as the exclusive home of a highly-anticipated Friends reunion is a big deal for WarnerMedia, which reportedly paid more than $400 million for five years of the show's streaming rights. Both the special and the entire series will be there for you when HBO Max launches this May, at which point the streamer will have one thing to say to potential subscribers: how you doing? Brendan Morrow

February 21, 2020

Former Vice President Joe Biden has a pretty good tale to share — but it may be a little tall.

Biden, who is running for president, has been spicing up his recent campaign stump speeches with a story of how he was arrested while in South Africa trying to see Nelson Mandela, The New York Times reports. But that recollection of events has only recently come to light, and it was reportedly omitted from Biden's 2007 memoir that detailed his escapades in the country around that time.

During recent campaign speeches, Biden says he "had the great honor" of meeting Mandela and "of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto." As Miami Herald reporter Alex Daugherty points out, Soweto is a ways away from Robben Island, where Mandela's maximum security prison was located.

The arrest, which has seemingly only been brought up publicly by Biden in the last few weeks, was not found referenced anywhere by readily available news outlets, per the Times.

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. from 1977 to 1979 was Andrew Young. While Young reportedly acknowledged going to South Africa with Biden, he said he was never arrested in the country, and he told the Times he didn't think Biden had been arrested there either.

"I don't think there was ever a situation where congressmen were arrested in South Africa," Young told the Times, although he did say some people were being arrested in Washington.

The story, which was seemingly nonexistent before a few weeks ago, has been told three times on the trail as Biden heads into Nevada and South Carolina, where he needs to pull in big numbers in order to counteract a lackluster showing in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Word of advice: there are other ways to make yourself look tough to voters that don't include broadcasting a trip to the slammer. Marianne Dodson

February 21, 2020

U.S. officials told Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that Russia is interfering in the 2020 campaign to help him win the presidency, people familiar with the matter tell The Washington Post.

President Trump and other lawmakers are also reportedly aware of the assistance, which is an apparent "effort to interfere with the Democratic contest," the Post writes. The Post didn't learn what kind of interference Russia was undertaking, but Russia did try to aid Sanders' 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton via social media.

Sanders denounced Russian interference on anyone's behalf in a statement to the Post, saying "I don't care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president. My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do."

Trump and the House Intelligence Committee reportedly learned earlier this week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 election to aid Trump's re-election. Read more at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

February 21, 2020

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will release three women from the nondisclosure agreements he'd signed with them "to address complaints about comments they said I had made," his campaign announced Friday.

In a statement, Bloomberg said his company "identified 3 NDAs that we signed over the past 30-plus years with women," and that "if any of them want to be released from their NDA so that they can talk about those allegations, they should contact the company." And after "a lot of reflecting," Bloomberg pledged to no longer "offer confidentiality agreements to resolve claims of sexual harassment or misconduct" while he was still running his company.

Bloomberg's choice is in no doubt influenced by Wednesday night's Democratic primary debate, where Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called on Bloomberg release women from their NDAs. Bloomberg said those women didn't "accuse me of doing anything; maybe they didn't like the joke I told."

Warren followed up by writing her own contract that Bloomberg could use to invalidate the NDAs and sharing it publicly on Thursday. Kathryn Krawczyk

February 21, 2020

The jury in the Harvey Weinstein rape trial has indicated it's facing a potential deadlock on the most serious charges against him.

During the fourth day of deliberations on Friday, jurors in the Weinstein rape trial asked what they should do if they can't reach a verdict on the two predatory sexual assault charges, but can on the other three, Variety reports.

Weinstein is facing sexual assault and rape charges stemming from the allegations of Mimi Haleyi, who alleges Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her in 2006, and Jessica Mann, who alleges Weinstein raped her in 2013. But among the other accusers who testified was Annabella Sciorra, who alleges Weinstein raped her in 1993 or 1994.

Sciorra testified to support the two charges of predatory sexual assault, and it's her testimony that jurors have appeared to be focused on in recent days. On Friday, they revisited her cross-examination, and earlier in the week, they asked the judge to clarify why it is Weinstein didn't face charges specifically stemming from Sciorra's allegation. Her case is too old to prosecute, but the first count of predatory sexual assault relates to the allegations of Haleyi and Sciorra, while the second count relates to the allegations of Mann and Sciorra, The Wrap reports. Weinstein is also facing charges of criminal sexual act in the first degree, rape in the first-degree, and rape in the third-degree.

The prosecution on Friday said they wouldn't accept a "partial verdict," and the judge instructed jurors to continue deliberations, per The Hollywood Reporter. Not long after, the jury was dismissed for the day, with deliberations set to pick back up on Monday. Brendan Morrow

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