January 18, 2019

A White House spokesperson on Friday refused to say whether President Trump directed his attorney to lie to Congress.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley told Fox News Friday it's "ludicrous" that a news outlet like BuzzFeed News is being taken seriously, with the term "news outlet" placed in air quotes. He argued that BuzzFeed's report, which contained the bombshell allegations, is uncorroborated and that the publication can't be trusted ever since it published the Steele dossier.

But strangely, when Fox News repeatedly asked Gidley to say whether the allegations in the story are true, he wouldn't directly answer. "So you're saying the president did not tell Michael Cohen to do that?" Bill Hemmer asked. Gidley dodged, just saying, "I'm telling you right now this is exactly why the president refuses to give any credence or credibility to news outlets because they have no ability to corroborate anything they put out there."

Hemmer quickly pointed out that "that was not a denial." Shortly after, Gidley was asked directly about the allegation, "Is that true or false?" Once again, Gidley wouldn't answer this very basic yes or no question. "I'm not going to give any credence or credibility to Michael Cohen, who's a convicted felon and an admitted liar," he said.

BuzzFeed's story cited two law enforcement officials as saying Special Counsel Robert Mueller had evidence that Trump instructed Cohen to lie to Congress. Trump on Twitter similarly criticized Cohen, though he was not a BuzzFeed source, writing that he is "lying to reduce his jail time!" Watch the bizarre Gidley interview below. Brendan Morrow

10:39 a.m.

Afghanistan officials reported a pair of separate fatal suicide bombings in the country Sunday.

At least 31 Afghan security force members were killed and 24 others wounded after an attacker reportedly drove a military humvee packed with explosives onto an army base outside the city of Ghazni on Sunday and detonated the bomb. So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the suicide attack. Per Reuters, a spokesman for the Taliban did not confirm or deny the group's involvement.

Another suicide bomber targeted the convoy of Attajan Haqbayat, the council chief in the southern Zabul province, on Sunday, killing at least three people and wounding 21 others. Haqbayat survived the attack with minor injuries. No one has claimed responsibility for that incident, either; Reuters notes Haqbayat is an outspoken critic of the Taliban.

The Taliban and the Afghan government are seeking a solution to their decades-long conflict, as the United States prepares to withdraw more troops from the country, but violence has surged throughout the negotiation process. The Taliban and the Islamic State have both carried out in attacks in recent weeks. Read more at The Associated Press and Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

10:23 a.m.

David Prowse, a British actor best known for portraying Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy, has died after a short illness, his management company announced Saturday. He was 85.

Prowse was a former bodybuilder and weightlifting champion who had several roles in which he played monsters and villains before George Lucas invited him to audition for both Vader and Chewbacca. Prowse said he chose the former because "everyone remembers the villain," per The Guardian.

While he appeared in all three original trilogy films, it was actually James Earl Jones who provided the character's voice, and Lucas cast Sebastian Shaw for the role when Vader's helmet is finally removed at the end of Return of the Jedi. Prowse reportedly had a falling out with Lucas, who banned him from attending official Star Wars conventions.

Despite playing an iconic pop culture figure, Prowse said he was most proud of his role as the "Green Cross Code Man" in a British road safety campaign. Read more at The Guardian and CNN. Tim O'Donnell

7:53 a.m.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled unanimously to reject a Republican lawsuit, led by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), that argued the Keystone State's law permitting universal mail-in voting was unconstitutional.

The high court said the "petitioners advocated the extraordinary proposition that the court disenfranchise all 6.9 million Pennsylvanians who voted in the general election," but "failed to allege that even a single mail-in ballot was fraudulently cast or counted." The justices also criticized the petitioners for filing the lawsuit more than a year after the bill was passed by Pennsylvania's GOP legislature. "The want of due diligence demonstrated in this matter is unmistakable," the justices wrote.

The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice meaning the plaintiffs are barred from bringing another action on the same claim.

The decision was yet another blow for the Trump campaign and its allies seeking to overturn election results — there have now been 26 pro-Trump legal challenges tossed out in key swing states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia. Read more at NBC News and The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

November 28, 2020

Sarah Fuller, a goalkeeper for Vanderbilt women's soccer team, suited up for the Commodore football team Saturday and became the first woman to play in a Power 5 football game when she took the third quarter kick off.

Two women have played college football at the FBS level — Katie Hnida of New Mexico and April Goss of Kent State — but neither were on a team in the the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, or Pac-12.

Per ESPN, Vanderbilt's expected starting kicker opted out before the season, and several replacements are in quarantine this week because of COVID-19 testing, so Fuller got the call. She told Vanderbilt's website the historical aspect of the situation is "amazing and incredible," but "I'm also trying to separate that because I know this is a job I need to do." Read more at ESPN. Tim O'Donnell

November 28, 2020

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Friday that the "federal government is now fully in control" of the Tigray region's capital, Mekelle, after a successful military offensive, Reuters reports. It's a crucial development in the weeks-old intra-country conflict.

Abiy said police are searching for leaders of the Tigray People's Liberation Front, who have been fighting the government's forces throughout November, and aim to "bring them to the court of law." He added that military operations have ended and the government's focus is now "rebuilding the region and providing humanitarian assistance." There has been no comment from the TPLF.

Earlier in the day, a spokeswoman for Abiy said the military would not target civilian areas, while Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of the TPLF, told Reuters that Mekelle was under "heavy bombardment."

It has been difficult for news organizations to verify claims from either side over the course of the conflict since phone and internet links to Tigray have been down. Read more at Reuters and Al Jazeera. Tim O'Donnell

November 28, 2020

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly flew to Saudi Arabia last week for a secret meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Saudi Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in the hopes of striking a deal that would normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. But he came home empty handed after Prince Mohammed backed out, The Wall Street Journal reports.

His reasoning, Saudi advisers and U.S. officials told the Journal, was President-elect Joe Biden's victory over President Trump in the U.S. general election. Although the Trump administration was a factor in the recent so-called Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Prince Mohammed reportedly wants to build ties with Biden and was reluctant about following suit while Trump is still in office, although the chances of that happening reportedly aren't impossible.

Negotiating normalization agreements between Israel and other Arab nations is one Trump policy Biden seems likely to keep pursuing, but the president-elect has taken a tougher stance on Saudi Arabia than Trump, especially after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Journal notes, so reviving talks with the new administration may be Prince Mohammed's best chance "to repair its image in Washington," a U.S. official said. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

November 28, 2020

Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., tested negative for the coronavirus for the third time during a 10-day quarantine in Rome on Saturday morning, and a few hours later he officially became the first Black American to earn the rank of cardinal.

Gregory was among 11 men who traveled to the Vatican after Pope Francis had chosen to elevate them to the College of Cardinals last month. There were 13 new cardinals selected, but two opted out of going to Rome over coronavirus concerns.

The 72-year-old Gregory will be eligible to vote for the next pope, should it be necessary, until he turns 80.

Per The Washington Post, Gregory said he hopes to be a "voice for the African American community in the pope's ear," adding that his selection is an "important recognition that the African American, the Black Catholic community, is an important component within the larger, universal church."

The ceremony inside St. Peter's Basilica reflected the times, as the new cardinals sat in socially distanced rows while wearing masks. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

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