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January 8, 2019

Paul Manafort's lawyers Tuesday inadvertently revealed that he may have discussed a "Ukrainian peace plan" with a political operative with suspected ties to Russian intelligence.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it should: A Ukrainian peace plan has been of interest ever since The New York Times reported in 2017 that Michael Flynn, when he was national security adviser, received a Ukrainian peace plan proposal from Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. That proposal was put together by Andrii Artemenko, a Ukrainian lawmaker who reportedly "received encouragement" from aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The proposal would involve Russia pulling forces from eastern Ukraine and allow Ukrainian voters to decide whether Crimea should be leased to Russia 50 or 100 years, along with lifting sanctions on Russia. It heavily favors Russia's interests, The Atlantic notes, and came under scrutiny as the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia began to be investigated. Artemenko in May 2018 revealed that he had been questioned by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators, Politico reports.

Tuesday's filing appears to reveal for the first time that Manafort was also involved in discussions of a Ukrainian peace plan, talking about it with Konstantin Kilimnik. It's wasn't completely clear if they discussed the same one that ended up in Flynn's hands, though, and Felix Sater, who was involved in getting the Artemenko plan to the White House, claims the two plans are different, McClatchy's Ben Wieder reports. But while it's unclear what the one Manafort and Kilimnik discussed might have entailed, the Times notes that Manafort and Kilimnik have a history of pushing Russia's interests in Ukraine.

According to the filing, Manafort "conceded" that he discussed or may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan with Kilimnik "on more than one occasion." His lawyers insist he did not recall this when initially speaking to investigators because "issues and communications related to Ukrainian political events simply were not at the forefront of Mr. Manafort's mind." Brendan Morrow

8:19 a.m.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) on Saturday became the first Republican to openly call for the impeachment of President Trump.

The congressman created a long tweet thread explaining that he came to the conclusion following the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on his investigation into 2016 Russian election interference. While Mueller's team found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow, Amash believes Trump has still "engaged in impeachable conduct" and because impeachment does not, legally speaking, "require probable cause that a crime has been committed," Congress would be justified in pursuing that route.

He also said he believes Attorney General William Barr "deliberately misrepresented" Mueller's report. Amash's fellow Michigan representative, Rashida Tlaib (D), has reportedly asked Amash to cosponsor an impeachment investigation resolution.

While it may be fundamentally surprising for a Republican congressman to support impeachment openly, Amash has long been a harsh Trump critic, so it is unlikely his stance will spark similar responses. Tim O'Donnell

7:49 a.m.

Alec Baldwin returned to NBC's Saturday Night Live to portray President Trump once again on Saturday evening for the show's season finale, but he also channeled his inner-Freddie Mercury during the episode's cold open.

While boasting about how much he has accomplished as commander-in-chief in the last year, Baldwin's Trump breaks into a rendition of Queen's hit song, "Don't Stop Me Now." He's shortly joined by a cast of characters including Cecily Strong's first lady Melania Trump, Beck Bennett's Vice President Mike Pence, and Aidy Bryant's White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for what turns into a raucous sing-along. Turns out, not even Robert De Niro's Robert Mueller can ruin their fun. Watch the full skit below.

Tim O'Donnell

7:30 a.m.

President Trump on Saturday night tweeted that he is "strongly pro-life," but like former President Ronald Reagan supports three exceptions for abortions — rape, incest, and when it is necessary to protect the life of the mother.

The tweet comes just days after Alabama's state legislature passed a near-total ban on abortion, which does not allow any exceptions for rape or incest. The governors of Missouri and Georgia signed their own restrictive abortion bills last week, as well, as part of a movement to overturn Roe V. Wade. This is the first time Trump has publicly commented on the recent wave of abortion laws, USA Today reports.

Trump followed his initial tweet with two more calling for unity among the pro-life movement. It's possible he was offering a veiled critique of the Alabama law, which even the likes of Pat Robertson have argued goes "too far." Tim O'Donnell

May 18, 2019

The future of charter schools could be in doubt if Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) finds his way into the White House. Early reactions to the news are mixed.

Sanders, one of the frontrunners in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary unveiled an ambitious, 10-point education policy plan on Saturday — which is the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision that made school segregation illegal — during a speech in South Carolina.

Sanders' proposal would put a halt to public funding for charter schools, at least until the completion of a national audit on such schools, which have become a "polarizing" topic in America, HuffPost reports. Sanders would also attempt to implement a ban on for-profit charter schools, which make up 15 percent of all charter schools. Sanders' reasoning is that charter schools can often "drain" communities of already limited resources, hurting traditional public schools in the process and leading to unofficial school segregation. However, HuffPost writes, polls show that black Democrats tend to hold more favorable views of charter schools than white Democrats. Amy Wilkins, the senior vice president of advocacy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, called Sanders' plan "the opposite of the spirit" of the Brown v. Board decision.

Sanders is, to date, the only presidential candidate to have proposed a moratorium on charter school funding.

Other highlights of Sanders' plan are a minimum salary of $60,000 for teachers, tripling federal Title I funding, and providing universal school meals, Vox reports. Tim O'Donnell

May 18, 2019

It wouldn't be unreasonable to expect President Trump's quick trip to Ireland in June to meet with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar next month to go off without a hitch. But what seemed like a standard, mostly ceremonial visit is now in jeopardy because the two sides can't agree on a venue, putting Varadkar in an unenviable position.

Trump, who is planning on stopping in Ireland en route to Great Britain and France for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, reportedly really wants his meeting with Varadkar to take place at Trump's golf course and hotel in Doonbeg, an Irish government source familiar with the situation told CNN. The Irish government, though, thinks that it would be a bit "unseemly" for Varadkar to host Trump at his own hotel.

As a compromise, Ireland has proposed the two have dinner at a nearby venue, the Dromoland Castle, and then have a follow-up breakfast at Trump's property. "Leo is doing his best to minimize his exposure to Trump on this visit, but he is in a tricky position, as practically every American digital company's European headquarters are in Ireland," said the source.

The Trump visit was already complicated because the president is wildly unpopular in Ireland, CNN writes. At the same time, the prime minister wants to maintain positive relations with the United States as Ireland hosts headquarters for Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and Apple, CNN reports. Tim O'Donnell

This story has been updated.

May 18, 2019

In a surprising turn of events, Australia's governing Liberal-National Coalition has reportedly defied predictions on Saturday to win the country's federal elections.

Only 70 percent of the nationwide votes have been counted so far, but the Coalition has won — or is ahead in — 74 seats, with main opponent Labor trailing with 66 seats. The Coalition needs 76 seats to claim a majority government for center-right Liberal Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The anticipated victory comes as a shock in light of most pre-election opinion polling, which largely pointed to a narrow victory for Labor and its leader, Bill Shorten. BBC writes that it would be difficult to "find someone who says they saw this result coming" and Morrison described the result as a miracle. Shorten accepted defeat and announced he would resign his post.

The election was considered a crucial one, BBC reports, because Australia has had a tumultuous decade-plus in the political realm. While elections in the country are held every three years, no prime minister has served a full term since 2007.

Australia has mandatory voting and a reported record 16.4 million voters enrolled for the election. Tim O'Donnell

May 18, 2019

Iran and the U.S. have both maintained they have no intention of becoming mired in a physical, on-the-ground war. On Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he does not believe such a conflict will break out and that no country is under the "illusion it could confront Iran."

But as tensions heighten between the two nations, media reports out of Saudi Arabia said that multiple Gulf states have agreed to a U.S. request to redeploy military forces in Gulf waters and territories as a form of deterrence should Iran attempt to use force, Al Jazeera reports.

The U.S. has taken other precautionary measures, as well. U.S. diplomats have issued warnings to commercial airliners flying over the Gulf. The diplomats said the planes could be misidentified as military planes, putting them at risk. That said, commercial planes will still be able to fly as normal in the region. Lloyd's of London, an insurance company, also warned of increased risks for ships passing through the region's waters. The advisories went into place after Washington increased sanctions on Iran and pulled non-essential staff from its embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, citing possible threats from Iran's proxy forces. Tim O'Donnell

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