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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

10:51 a.m.

President Trump has tabbed Ken Cuccinelli as the new director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

While Cuccinelli's hiring was reported as early as Tuesday, it remained unclear what exactly Cuccinelli's role in the Department of Homeland Security would be. He'll replace the agency's current director, L. Francis Cissna, whom The Washington Post describes as having "deep expertise" when it comes to immigration law, but was forced out following criticism from Trump senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller.

Cuccinelli is considered an immigration hardliner and is known for his "combative" television appearances and enthusiastic support for Trump's immigration proposals. He has, however, drawn ire from both Republicans and Democrats. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has reportedly vowed to block Cuccinelli from getting confirmed for any position. McConnell reportedly blames Cuccinelli for promoting insurgent candidates running against sitting Republicans during the 2014 midterm elections. Tim O'Donnell

10:29 a.m.

Some of the momentum gathered by states seeking to implement more restrictive abortion measures in recent weeks was halted when a federal judge on Friday issued a preliminary injunction, blocking a Mississippi law that bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.

Attorneys for the state's only abortion clinic said the law would effectively make all abortions illegal because most women are not yet aware of their pregnancy when a fetal heartbeat is first discovered. The bill makes an exception when the mother's health is at risk. The law, which is one in a series of Republican-sponsored abortion bills throughout the United States, was scheduled to take effect in July.

The judge, Carlton Reeves, wrote that a woman's free choice "outweighs any interest the state might have in banning abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat." Reeves also blocked a 2018 Mississippi law that would have banned abortion at 15 weeks. The state is still appealing that decision. Reeves wrote that the fact Mississippi lawmakers passed another ban after the first was struck down "smacks of defiance to this court." Tim O'Donnell

8:14 a.m.

As anticipated, President Trump on Friday declared a national emergency in response to rising tensions between the United States and Iran, allowing him to complete the sale of over $8 billion worth of weapons to Iran's regional rival, Saudi Arabia, as well as the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, all despite congressional objections.

Congress had blocked the sale of offensive weaponry to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for months as a result of those countries' air campaigns in Yemen and other human rights abuses. But Trump used a loophole to circumvent Congress and go ahead with the sale.

The emergency declaration was met with bipartisan disapproval. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), said there is no new emergency reason to supply Saudi Arabia with arms and "doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis" in Yemen. Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) called the decision "unfortunate" and said he would have preferred the Trump administration "utilize the long-established and codified arms sale review process."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the sales were necessary to deter Iran, but the decision to side step Congress was a "one-time event." Tim O'Donnell

7:44 a.m.

A federal judge in California issued a preliminary injunction on Friday temporarily blocking the government from constructing a wall in two sectors along the U.S.-Mexico border using funds diverted from the Defense Department, throwing a wrinkle into President Trump's national emergency declaration.

Construction was set to begin on Saturday, but the order — which applies specifically to two areas along the border near Yuma, Arizona, and El Paso, Texas, where a total of 51 miles of fencing was set to be built — will put that on hold. The construction of additional segments, announced too late for Friday's decision, will reportedly be taken up in June.

The judge, Haywood S. Gilliam, wrote that Congress's "absolute" control over federal funding is an "essential" feature of the United States government and that Trump's emergency declaration would "pose serious problems under the Constitution's separation of powers principles." The American Civil Liberties Union called the decision a "win for our system of checks and balances." Gilliam's ruling was in response to a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition. Tim O'Donnell

May 24, 2019

The Supreme Court has blocked lower court rulings that required Ohio and Michigan's electoral maps to be immediately redrawn, NBC News reported Friday.

Previous court rulings had determined Ohio's map of congressional districts, and Michigan's map of congressional and state legislative districts, needed to be redrawn ahead of the 2020 election due to unconstitutional gerrymandering, in both cases favoring Republicans. But the Supreme Court on Friday put these orders on hold.

The justices are currently reviewing two gerrymandering cases, one concerning North Carolina and one concerning Maryland, during which they will decide whether the court has a role in such a matter. Verdicts are expected to be reached in these cases by the end of next month. Read more at The Washington Post. Brendan Morrow

May 24, 2019

Missouri's governor signed into law a strict abortion ban on Friday, adding it to the list of states that would have a dramatically different abortion landscape if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

The law, which bans abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, follows in the footsteps of four other states that have passed fetal "heartbeat" laws, as well as two states that have limited abortions to the middle of the second trimester, reports Axios.

At least six other states are currently considering restrictive abortion bills, as a nationwide momentum has led more bills to state legislatures. Six states have included "trigger laws," which are currently inactive but would go into effect banning all abortion the moment Roe is hypothetically overturned, reports CBS News.

But while Roe v. Wade remains a hot-button topic, experts say it's unlikely to be overturned — especially any time soon.

"The court just doesn't operate that way … This idea that you're going to force them to reconsider Roe v. Wade is just absurd," Pro-life lawyer James Bopp Jr. told Politico. "There's a lot of ill-informed hype on both sides about these measures … They'll never go into effect."

Caroline Fredrickson, with liberal legal group the American Constitution Society, told Politico that Chief Justice John Roberts would "probably prefer" the issue not be brought to the Supreme Court in the middle of an election. Marianne Dodson

May 24, 2019

The University of Oklahoma has been supplying false information to U.S. News & World Report for the last 20 years, reports CNN.

U.S. News & World Report, which creates the annual Best Colleges rankings, says the university has given "inflated" numbers on its alumni giving rates, of all things. Oklahoma will now be unranked in the 2019 rankings.

The university inflated its alumni giving rate by more than 4 percent, incorrectly claiming it was 14 percent instead of 9.7 percent. The alumni giving rate makes up 5 percent of the rankings formula, as it "measures student satisfaction and post-graduate engagement," reports CNN.

The school said it noticed the error in reporting in 2018 and immediately gave the accurate information to U.S. News. OU was ranked 97th in 2018 among both public and private institutions.

The revelation marks the second time in two years that a college has provided false information to U.S. News for several years, following Temple University's admission it had inflated information about its online M.B.A. program, per Inside Higher Ed. Marianne Dodson

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