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December 31, 2018

Sheriff Todd Entrekin of Etowah County, Alabama, lost his re-election bid this year after he was found to have personally pocketed $750,000 allotted for feeding inmates in county lockup and using it to buy himself a beach house. Ethical questions aside, Entrekin's taking was legal under Alabama law — but a further $1.5 million he took home from funds for feeding federal immigration detainees may not be.

The Etowah County Detention Center has a contract with the federal government to house several hundred undocumented immigrants awaiting adjudication. With that contract comes federal funding from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to feed the detainees, money AL.com reports Entrekin has treated exactly like state and municipal funds: Any surplus is split 50/50 between the county's general fund and the sheriff himself, so a $3 million surplus gave Entrekin a $1.5 million bonus.

As Entrekin protested when the beach house story broke, that accounting is legal in Alabama. AL.com's report notes "multiple Alabama state attorneys general over the past decade [have agreed] sheriffs can in fact pocket funds allocated by the state to feed inmates that are not used for that purpose." But federal funds are likely a different story.

"There's pretty much no way that the federal government is okay with this," George Washington University law professor Randall Eliason told AL.com. "Regardless of what he argues about the Alabama law, if it comes to light that he's taking these federal funds that are supposed to be used to feed and house federal prisoners, and instead is putting [hundreds of thousands of] dollars in his pocket, that would be of great interest to federal prosecutors."

Entrekin said in July his use of the food money is under Department of Homeland Security investigation, and, before leaving office, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions encouraged Alabama's U.S. attorneys to investigate as well. Etowah County detainees have reported chronic poor treatment including service of inadequate and even rotten food. Bonnie Kristian

8:35 a.m.

A bomb blast killed at least 24 people at a campaign rally for Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani, on Tuesday, The New York Times reports. At least 31 other people were wounded. Ghani was inside a building when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated the bomb outside. He was unhurt; many of the casualties were women and children, The Associated Press reports.

Ghani has been campaigning in his re-election bid mostly by video conference ahead of the Sept. 28 vote, which is taking place under threat of attacks by Taliban insurgents. The Taliban has vowed to disrupt the vote. Hours after the blast at the rally, another blast hit near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Few details on the second explosion were immediately available, and no group claimed responsibility for either blast. Harold Maass

7:52 a.m.

President Trump sought to appeal to Hispanic voters with a New Mexico rally Monday, though an oddly-phrased question directed at one of his supporters may have somewhat undermined that goal.

Trump at one point during his rally singled out Steve Cortes, an author and member of his Hispanic Advisory Council who has appeared on cable news in support of the president. He "happens to be Hispanic, but I've never quite figured it out, because he looks more like a WASP than I do," Trump said of Cortes.

The president declared that there's "nobody that loves this country more or Hispanics more" than Cortes, who was at the rally and who Trump then directly asked, "Who do you like more, the country or the Hispanics?" From off stage, Cortes apparently responded with the former, to which Trump responded, "I don't know, I may have to go with the Hispanics."

Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) was among those to push back on this distinction from Trump, tweeting in response, "I don't even know where to begin with that question. Hispanics are proud Americans. We are part of this country, just like you @realdonaldtrump. Do better."

Trump lost New Mexico by eight percentage points in 2016, and Axios reports his net approval rating there has dropped from +17 at the beginning of his presidency to -13 in July. Brendan Morrow

7:33 a.m.

The Women's March revealed Monday that three founding board members who have been accused of anti-Semitism, financial mismanagement, and other detrimental behavior are being replaced by 16 new board members from across the U.S. The original members — Tamika Mallory, Bob Bland, and Linda Sarsour — actually stepped down July 15, The Washington Post reports, though they were still listed as co-chairs through Monday. Bland and Mallory will be formally replaced as co-presidents when the new board meets this month and elects new leaders.

The Women's March told CNN in a statement that it "has not cut ties with the three departing board members; their terms have ended." The incoming board members — who include three Jewish women, two religious leaders, a member of the Lakota nation, and a transgender woman — "represent a truly diverse swath of women who have fought and will continue to fight tirelessly for women's equal rights," the statement added.

Most of the charges of anti-Semitism stem from the board members' associations with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. The original Women's March, the day after President Trump's inauguration in 2017, was one of the largest single-day protests in U.S. history, and the organization has continued to organize demonstrations, including one against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh planned for early October. But the anti-Semitism allegations, a contentious and unsuccessful battle to trademark "Women's March," and other issues have led to rival groups splintering off and the withdrawal of supporting organizations. Peter Weber

6:25 a.m.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) held one of the biggest rallies of her presidential run on Monday night, drawing a crowd her campaign estimated at above 20,000 to New York City's Washington Square Park. The centerpiece of her speech was the anti-corruption plan she had released just hours earlier, and on the role of women in enacting change.

Warren briefly mentioned President Trump, calling him "corruption in the flesh." But the arc of her speech tied together the nearby 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire and Frances Perkins, who was moved to fight for labor rights by the death more than 140 Triangle factory workers — mostly women — before she became President Franklin D. Roosevelt's labor secretary, the first female Cabinet member in U.S. history.

"What did one woman — one very persistent woman — backed up by millions of people across this country get done? Big structural change," Warren said. "Social Security. Unemployment insurance. Abolition of child labor. Minimum wage. The right to join a union. Even the very existence of the weekend."

Warren spoke for about 42 minutes, then stayed after for selfies. She appeared to reconsider her selfies-for-all tradition from the stage, telling the huge crowd, "Tonight is a little something different." Nevertheless she persisted in her custom, The New York Times notes, and she "finished taking pictures around 11:40 p.m. — nearly four hours after she finished her speech."

"With each big rally," the Times says, "Warren is solidifying her place in an exclusive club of presidential candidates who have become crowd magnets, exhilarating fans at events that can sometimes feel like rock concerts." Trump, who is part of that club, held his own rally in New Mexico on Monday night, and fellow 2020 Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also draws large audiences, including to a rally at least as large as Warren's in Washington Square Park right before he lost the 2016 New York primary to Hillary Clinton. Peter Weber

4:43 a.m.

Ric Ocasek, frontman for The Cars, died at age 75 on Sunday. On Monday's Late Show, Stephen Colbert paid tribute to one of his favorite artists. "1978 — Ric Ocasek was already 34 years old when their first album came out," Colbert said. "He wrote everything for The Cars, and his music was the soundtrack of my high school." He said he "couldn't believe it when Ric Ocasek came on The Colbert Report — I got to meet one of my greatest musical heroes, and then he started doing bits on the show." He showed one from 2006.

Conan O'Brien posted a full video clip from 2005 in which Ocasek — who apparently pronounced his last name Ok-caw-sik — agreed to practice a Grammys presentation with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. You can watch a true rock 'n' roll legend gamely shrug off insults from a dog puppet below. Peter Weber

4:00 a.m.

"Saudi Arabia is once again a radioactive political football in the U.S., and President Donald Trump can't resist grabbing it," Politico reports. Trump's implication Sunday that Saudi Arabia would dictate the U.S. military response to Saturday's aerial attack on a Saudi oil facility "prompted fury in Washington, where the Saudis have faced an increasingly hostile climate in recent years," in fact "almost as politically charged as in the years immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when it was revealed that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis."

Trump administration officials have said Iran is behind the attack on the major oil facility, though Trump and Saudi Arabia are publicly less definitive on the culprit. In a telephone briefing Monday, Brian Hook, Trump's special representative to Iran, told congressional staffers that Saudi Arabia views the attack as "their 9/11," CNN and The Washington Post report, citing two people familiar with the call.

The comparison to the Saudi-linked terrorist attacks, less than a week after the 18th anniversary of 9/11, "rankled several staffers," the Post reports. People also felt the comment was inappropriate, CNN reports, "because there have been no reported deaths as a result of the Saudi oil field strikes yet nearly 3,000 Americans were killed in New York, Washington, and outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, in the 9/11 attacks." An official used the same 9/11 comparison on Trump during a briefing on the Saudi oil explosions, a source tells The Daily Beast, and Trump appeared "unmoved."

"From an American perspective, it seems like a trivialization of the tragedy of 9/11, and perhaps offensively so," Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute, explains to The Daily Beast, "but from a Saudi point of view it is a way of explaining their shock to Americans." Peter Weber

2:57 a.m.

In a tweet Sunday, President Trump suggested the U.S. might go to war with Iran if Saudi Arabia thinks that's a good idea. There are those that consider this a smart gamble, but Monday's Late Show is not among them:

"On Saturday, a major oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia was knocked out by multiple drone strikes," Stephen Colbert explained in Monday's monologue. Houthi rebels immediately claimed responsibility. "Now, these Houthi rebels are in Yemen, so we're going to bomb Iran — or not!" he shrugged. The Trump administration blames the Houthi allies Iran, claiming 10 drones couldn't do that much damage. "Yes, drones are highly advance tech," Colbert said. "So they've narrowed down the suspect to Iran — or your dad, who just bought a quadcopter at Best Buy."

"Our top intelligence officials think Iran did it, and so does our top unintelligence official, Donald Trump," Colbert joked. And Trump seems to think Saudi Arabia should dictate any U.S. military response. "Oh, I keep forgetting that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman now tells the U.S. president who to attack and how," he said. "It's, of course, all part of Trump Hotels rewards program 'Rent 500 Rooms, Get a Free War!'" Trump tried to assuage fears about U.S. gas prices and the possibility of war with Iran, but Colbert had a few questions and a couple of jokes. Watch below. Peter Weber

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