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January 24, 2019

In August, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and husband Gail Ernst filed for divorce, and on Monday, the Des Moines alternative newspaper Cityview published details from an affidavit Joni Ernst filed in October. A judge sealed most of the divorce documents Tuesday, at Ernst's request. In the affidavit, Ernst said her ex-husband had been physically abusive, and she elaborated in an interview with Bloomberg News published Wednesday night. Ernst also disclosed that she was raped in college by a "physically and sexually abusive" man she was in a relationship with. "At times as she described her past, Ernst cried so hard that she was barely intelligible," Bloomberg reports.

"I didn't want to share it with anybody, and in the era of hashtag-MeToo survivors, I always believed that every person is different and they will confront their demons when they're ready," Ernst told Bloomberg's Jennifer Jacobs on Tuesday night. "And I was not ready." Ernst, the No. 4 Senate Republican, dismissed the idea that her support for President Trump should be tied to her personal experiences. "It's outrageous to suggest that anyone who has been the victim of sexual assault should therefore be a Hillary Clinton supporter," she said.

Ernst, 48, also told Bloomberg she didn't technically turn down Trump's invitation to be his running mate, as her affidavit attests. After meeting with Trump about joining the ticket, "I told him I needed to think about it," she said, and later withdrew from consideration. She also said Gail, 65, only physically abused her that one time, in 2007 or 2008, but it was "very sudden and very violent." He "grabbed me by the throat with his hands and threw me on the landing floor," Ernst said. "And then he pounded my head ... on the landing." After counseling, "he said that it would never happen again and blah-blah-blah. And it didn't," she said. "But there was always that underlying threat." Read more at Bloomberg News. Peter Weber

9:29 a.m.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un fully expects his children to join the family dictatorship business someday, and when that happens, he reportedly does not want them to be burdened with a nuclear arsenal.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "asked Chairman Kim: Do you really intend to denuclearize?" former CIA official Andrew Kim said of a meeting between Kim and Pompeo last year. "You know, I'm a father, and I'm a husband, and I have children, and I don't want my children to carry the nuclear weapon in their bag to live through their entire life," Andrew Kim reported Kim Jong Un replied.

The question of the Kim regime's sincerity in its denuclearization pledges is much debated, especially given reports of secret missile test sites. Pyongyang has explicitly pointed to the fates of Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi as cautionary tales of voluntary denuclearization leading to forcible, U.S.-orchestrated regime change. Bonnie Kristian

8:26 a.m.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) argued with a group of school of children over her unwillingness to support the Green New Deal on Friday.

The Sunrise Movement, an organization which encourages young people to combat climate change, posted a video of the encounter to Facebook. More than a dozen children and adults met with Feinstein to ask her to vote yes on the proposal. Feinstein, however, informed the crowd that the resolution will never pass the senate and "there's no way to pay" for the deal.

When one girl requested she vote yes anyway, Feinstein told her that she might end up doing that, but "it's not a good resolution."

Feinstein also clashed with crowd over age and experience. A young woman told Feinstein that she was "looking at the faces of the people who will be living these consequences" of climate change. "I've been doing this for 30 years," Feinstein replied. "So, you know, maybe people should listen a little bit."

Feinstein's camp released a statement about the meeting. "I have been and remain committed to doing everything I can to enact real, meaningful change," Feinstein said. She said the discussion was "spirited" and she heard the children's voices "loud and clear." Tim O'Donnell

8:12 a.m.

President Trump met with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in the White House Friday, afterwards expressing optimism that Washington and Beijing could reach a trade deal soon.

"I think we both feel there's a very good chance the deal will happen," Trump said, indicating he may extend a March 1 deadline for new U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports if he feels adequate progress is being made. Liu was similarly positive, calling a deal "very likely" and pledging China will "make [its] ultimate effort" for success.

Additional negotiations between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to take place Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort. "Ultimately, I think the biggest decisions and some even smaller decisions will be made by President Xi and myself. I think President Xi and I will work out the final points," Trump mused Friday. "Perhaps and perhaps not."

At Trump's direction, the United States has levied new tariffs ranging from 5 to 25 percent on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods over the last two years. Nevertheless, China's trade surplus with the U.S. in September reached a record monthly high. Bonnie Kristian

7:53 a.m.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller faced a midnight deadline Friday to file a memo with his recommendations for the sentencing of Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chair, who was convicted last year of eight counts of financial fraud. Contrary to expectations, the memo was not released to the public.

Friday's filing was sent to Judge Amy Berman Jackson, possibly under seal and with a request for redact some material before public release. If that is the case, Jackson would determine whether and how to publish the document.

A previous sentencing memo from Mueller's office recommended Manafort be sentenced to between 19 and 25 years in prison, a penalty that could see him spend the rest of his life behind bars. The sentencing is scheduled for March 13. Bonnie Kristian

February 22, 2019

The Trump investigations aren't stopping at Russia.

President Trump's ex-lawyer Michael Cohen has fully flipped, sharing his accounts of working with Trump with both federal and New York prosecutors. Part of that testimony includes "possible irregularities" within Trump Organization business dealings, specifically involving insurance claims and the Trump inaugural committee, The New York Times reports.

Trump's inaugural committee has reportedly been under investigation for how it spent its $107 million haul, and whether the committee's biggest donors sought special favors from the incoming Trump administration for their donations. Cohen, meanwhile, has reportedly given Manhattan prosecutors details about dealings between the Trump organization and inaugural committee donor Imaad Zuberi. Zuberi donated $900,000 "around the time ... he also tried to hire Cohen as a consultant and wrote him a substantial check," Cohen has told prosecutors, the Times says. It's unclear if prosecutors even think Cohen's word is credible, but it does suggest they're digging deeper into Trump's personal and business life.

Cohen reached a plea deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller last year, pledging cooperation with Mueller's probe into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russian election interference. He recently had his report date for a prison sentence pushed back to May, giving him time to testify before Congress on a still-unscheduled day. Read more about what he's reportedly already shared at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

February 22, 2019

President Trump might be the only person in the White House looking forward to his meeting with Kim Jong Un.

When Trump scheduled a second meeting with the North Korean leader for next week, the news apparently wasn't well-received by his advisers. They're not just worried that a second meetup with produce not-so-historic results, but also that Trump may mess up a denuclearization deal completely, Politico reports.

Trump and Kim met last June in Singapore, signing what the White House called a "historic" commitment to denuclearization and what others called a "nothingburger." Trump has since gone on about the "beautiful letters" Kim has sent him, and said this second conference in Vietnam will help make North Korea an "economic powerhouse." His advisers reportedly don't agree.

Among the "skeptics" is, surprisingly, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Politico says. He's continued to meet with Kim and other North Korean officials, but thinks those same people will steamroll Trump completely, one source says. And even if Trump does hold his own, "Pompeo believes the North Koreans are just playing for time" and won't hand over "anything of substance on denuclearization," foreign policy expert Ian Bremmer tells Politico. National Security Adviser John Bolton, meanwhile, hasn't even pretended he's onboard.

The State Department declined to comment, and Bolton's spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. Read more at Politico. Kathryn Krawczyk

February 22, 2019

After months of endless confusion and controversy, the 2019 Oscars is nearly here. Here's what to expect from what could be the most bizarre Academy Awards in years:

1. Roma wins Best Picture: Netflix's film is the heavy favorite, although the Academy has never chosen a foreign-language Best Picture, so don't count out Green Book. In fact, nearly all of the nominees have a shot — yes, even Bohemian Rhapsody. Roma's Alfonso Cuarón should also take Best Director.

2. Rami Malek, Glenn Close, Mahershala Ali, and Regina King win: The four acting prizes look essentially locked up, although there could potentially be an upset win for Rachel Weisz over King.

3. No host, but plenty of presenters: The Academy is proceeding without a host for the first time in three decades, and the show is expected to rely on presenters to keep the night moving — including some from outside of Hollywood like Serena Williams and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). The last host-less Oscars was an infamous disaster, so is another train wreck in store?

4. Musical performances: The songs are back on after the Academy briefly considered cutting all but two, although Black Panther's Kendrick Lamar and SZA won't be coming. Still, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga will sing "Shallow," and Jennifer Hudson, Bette Midler, and Queen + Adam Lambert will also perform.

5. The Academy put on blast? Almost everyone had a reason to be mad at the Academy's leadership over the past six months due to a variety of since-rescinded changes, including a proposal to not give out all the awards live. After the most contentious Oscars rollout ever, don't be surprised to see a rogue presenter — Frances McDormand, anyone? — call out the producers and speak against similarly awful tweaks to 2020's show.

6. So much for three hours: Remember when the Academy vowed to rein the show into a tight three hours? Well, they've since given up, so expect another late night. Brendan Morrow

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