January 4, 2019

To the casual observer, President Trump's strange mini-lecture on the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan during his televised Cabinet meeting Wednesday may as well have been an outtake from Drunk History. "The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia," Trump said, falsely. "They were right to be there."

"To appreciate the shock value of Trump's words, it's necessary to dust off some Cold War history," David Frum writes in The Atlantic, and he does, briefly explaining why the Soviets really invaded in 1979 and how nobody in America — from either party — subscribes to the "Soviet-Putinist propaganda" Trump spouted Wednesday. "Putin-style glorification of the Soviet regime is entering the mind of the president, inspiring his words and — who knows — perhaps shaping his actions," Frum warned. "How that propaganda is reaching him — by which channels, via which persons — seems an important if not urgent question."

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow had the same question Thursday night, and she began by noting other instances of Trump surfacing bizarre Kremlin-aligned disinformation about Belarus and Montenegro. "The only place on Earth articulating that is the Kremlin under Vladimir Putin," she said. "Where did he get that from? Who planted that in his ear?"

"There is nowhere in America — nowhere — where President Trump might have picked up this idea" that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was "right" or in response to terrorism, Maddow said. "But there is one place not in America." Next month, Putin's United Russia party will vote to formally and retroactively rehabilitate the decade-long Soviet occupation of Afghanistan as justified due to terrorism. "That is the only place in nature where that idea even exists," she said. "Someone is stovepiping this stuff into the president's ears so it pops out of his mouth at the most unexpected times. What do we do with that?"

Maybe Trump's lecture on Russia "does not raise questions," Frum suggested. "Maybe it inadvertently reveals answers." Peter Weber

7:47 p.m.

Iran's foreign ministry on Sunday said the country will not participate in an informal meeting with the United States and European powers to discuss reviving the nuclear deal.

The European Union offered to hold the talks, but this is "not the time" for such a gathering, spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said. Under former President Donald Trump, the U.S. abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal, and reimposed economic sanctions. Iran refused to renegotiate and instead began ignoring its commitments under the deal.

Tehran has said in order for there to be talks, the U.S. must lift sanctions, which the U.S. has ruled out. A White House spokesperson said on Sunday the U.S. will consult with the other countries that signed the nuclear deal — the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, and Germany — to determine "the best way forward." Catherine Garcia

5:08 p.m.

Just a few weeks after leaving office, former President Donald Trump was back in the spotlight on Sunday.

At the beginning of his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, he asked the enthusiastic crowd if they missed him already before telling them that he'll "continue to fight right by your side."

He then dismissed reports that he was thinking about breaking off from the Republican Party and striking out on his own. "I am not starting a new party," he said, claiming the idea was "fake news." Instead, Trump predicted the GOP will "unite and be stronger than ever before." Tim O'Donnell

4:30 p.m.

Unsurprisingly, former President Donald Trump won the Conservative Political Action Conference's 2024 presidential straw poll Sunday, and he did so handily, garnering 55 percent of the vote. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was the only other potential candidate to reach double digits at 21 percent.

It's unclear if Trump will run, but many Republicans, including some of Trump's fiercest critics, think he is the overwhelming favorite for the nomination right now if he does enter the ring. So, CPAC conducted a second poll without Trump. DeSantis led the way in that one at 43 percent, followed by South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) at 11 percent. Meanwhile, former Vice President Mike Pence, who declined an invitation to the conference in Orlando, didn't gain much traction.

The polls, of course, come with many caveats attached. The election is a long way away, straw polls aren't the most reliable predictive method, and the CPAC conference is not necessarily representative of the larger Republican Party, which many analysts consider to be at a Trump-inspired crossroads right now. It's also worth noting that DeSantis' strong showing may be partly tied to the conference taking place on his home turf. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

2:28 p.m.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Sunday defended President Biden's response to a United States intelligence report that directly linked Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but questions over whether the administration went far enough seem likely to remain.

The Biden administration announced sanctions on dozens of Saudis involved in Khashoggi's killing, but did not include any direct penalties on the crown prince. Psaki said "historically" presidential administrations have not imposed sanctions on leaders of foreign governments with whom the U.S. has diplomatic relations. "We believe there are more effective ways to make sure this doesn't happen again," she told CNN's Dana Bash, adding that the White House wants to leave room to work with Riyadh on areas where the two governments agree.

Bash seemed unconvinced by Psaki's explanation, questioning if Biden's response really holds the crown prince accountable, and she wasn't alone. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that Biden deserves "credit" for the sanctions that were announced and acknowledged it's a challenging situation for the new administration, but said "there ought to be something additional" focused on Salman. Portman's fellow Ohioan Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) agreed further steps are needed to hold the Saudi royal family accountable, though he told a skeptical Chuck Todd on NBC's Meet the Press that he doesn't think Friday's sanctions represent the final say on the matter. Tim O'Donnell

1:40 p.m.

There are now three COVID-19 vaccines with approval from the Food and Drug Administration, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, said people shouldn't overthink which one to get.

Making the network rounds on Sunday, Fauci repeatedly assured audiences all three were highly "efficacious," even though the trial numbers from Johnson & Johnson's recently-authorized single-dose shot appear less impressive than the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech candidates. He explained that while it's understandable that someone might prefer to wait until a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine is available based on the numbers, the candidates really haven't been compared head-to-head.

Fauci said multiple times Sunday that he would take the Johnson & Johnson shot without hesitation. Fauci did acknowledge he's already been fully inoculated with the Moderna vaccine, but told CNN's Dana Bash that "if I were not vaccinated now, and I had a choice of getting a J & J vaccine now or waiting for another vaccine, I would take whatever vaccine would be available to me as quickly as possible."

Fauci wasn't alone in encouraging people to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine; former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb also said he would take it, explaining the trial data was indeed "quite strong." Tim O'Donnell

12:27 p.m.

Several New York politicians, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, have weighed in on allegations that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) sexually harassed two former aides over the last several years.

Multiple Democratic state legislators have called for Cuomo's resignation, though most lawmakers at the state and national level want an independent investigation to take place first. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden supports one, as well. Cuomo's office announced it had appointed former federal Judge Barbara Jones to lead the review, but that didn't sit well with lawmakers, who argued the investigator should be appointed by New York Attorney General Letitia James instead.

In response, the Cuomo administration reversed course to an extent Sunday, asking James to work jointly with the chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals (whom Cuomo appointed) to "select an independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation to conduct a thorough review of the matter and issue a public report." James has already confirmed she's ready to oversee the investigation.

As for de Blasio, the mayor — whose relationship with Cuomo has never been smooth, to say the least — issued a statement calling for independent investigations into both the sexual harassment allegations and the recent revelations about New York's COVID-19 nursing home deaths, saying "questions of this magnitude cannot hang over the heads of New Yorkers as we fight off a pandemic and economic crisis." Now, he said, "it's clear" that the New York legislature "must immediately revoke the governor's emergency powers that overrule local control." Tim O'Donnell

11:02 a.m.

At least 18 people have been killed during nationwide anti-coup protests in Myanmar on Sunday, marking the deadliest day in the country since the demonstrations began earlier this month, BBC reports. Dozens more people were reportedly injured. Deaths were reported in major cities like Yangon and Mandalay, as well as several others where police allegedly fired live rounds, rubber bullets, and tear gas. Demonstrators have said, in some instances at least, that police fired without warning.

The military regime that overthrew Myanmar's elected government in February has ramped up its response to the pro-democracy rallies over the last few weeks after a few initial days of calm. Security forces have reportedly utilized increasingly violent tactics to disperse the crowds and hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been detained over the course of the demonstrations. But the protesters have so far shown no sign of slowing down. "Whatever they do, we just have to take it," one protester told Reuters.

Meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's civilian leader who has not been seen in public since she was detained by the military, is scheduled to appear in court Monday on dubious charges of possessing unregistered walkie-talkies and violating coronavirus rules, but her lawyer says he has not been able to speak with her, per BBC. Read more at BBC and Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

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