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February 12, 2019

The Brooklyn-based trial which ended on Tuesday with a guilty verdict on all 10 counts for notorious drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, was rife with drama. Here are four of the wildest moments from the court proceedings, which included 200 hours of testimony from 56 witnesses.

1. Naked escape: Guzmán's former mistress Lucero Guadalupe Sánchez Lopez (who is incarcerated following an arrest and guilty plea on drug-related charges) took the witness stand in January and described how, in 2014, she and Guzmán fled from authorities through an underground tunnel beneath a safe house. Sanchez said that Guzmán was naked when they took off. He led her to a trap door beneath the bathtub through which they made their escape.

2. $500 million jalapeño cans: One "Sinaloa insider" testified that workers in Mexico would pack 25 to 30 tons of cocaine hidden in jalapeño cans, which was worth up to $500 million, per year. The witness also said that the workers would get contact highs in the process.

3. Extravagant weaponry: In November witness Jesus Zambada García revealed that Guzmán owned and carried a diamond-encrusted gun, engraved with his initials. He also was known to carry a gold-plated AK-47.

4. Revealed corruption: Alex Cifuentes, Guzmán's onetime right-hand man, testified that Guzmán once paid a $100 million bribe to former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. The former president allegedly requested $250 million, but has denied taking any bribe from anyone involved in the drug trade.

5. Seeing double: In January, Mexican actor Alejandro Edda, who plays Guzmán in Netflix's Narcos: Mexico, went to court to see the man he portrays for himself. Edda said that he decided to go in order to study Guzmán's mannerisms — which was difficult due to the lack of video of the cartel boss. "It was very surreal," Edda said of the experience. "I'm shaking." 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

February 22, 2019

Reports of the Mueller report may have been greatly exaggerated.

On Wednesday, sources told CNN that Attorney General William Barr will announce the completion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe "as early as next week." Now, a senior Justice Department official is telling NBC News that's not quite true.

Mueller has been investigating potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russian election interference for nearly two years, and has levied indictments against or negotiated plea deals with 37 people. Still, as NBC News reported Friday, the Justice Department isn't expecting to hear everything from him next week. And when Mueller does drop the details, Barr will still have to read it and write a summary of the confidential report that he'll give to Congress.

If you're still itching for details, Mueller's sentencing memorandum in his case against ex-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort is due Friday at midnight. The report will contain pretty much everything prosecutors want a judge to know before Manafort's March 13 sentencing, CNN notes.

Meanwhile, reports are also saying Mueller will issue his report before the sun expands to engulf the planet. Kathryn Krawczyk

February 22, 2019

Reproductive health organizations that refer patients to abortion providers are about to lose major federal funding.

Reflecting conservative calls to "defund Planned Parenthood," the Trump administration on Friday issued a new rule that excludes abortion providers and abortion referrers from Title X funding. Once it takes effect, the family planning program will largely direct its $286 million budget to faith-based reproductive health groups, The Washington Post reports.

The rule, which will take effect 60 days after it's published on the federal register in the next few days, doesn't completely strip Planned Parenthood's funding, Politico notes. But it still means it and other providers can't conduct abortions or issue referrals at the same facilities it uses for other reproductive services, such as STD and breast cancer screenings. If Planned Parenthood violates those standards, it won't be able to access about $60 million in annual funding it gets from Title X.

President Trump's Department of Health and Human Services issued a first draft of the report last year, NPR says. The newest edition comes as Trump has ramped up his anti-abortion rhetoric, and governors, state attorneys general, and advocates have already promised they'll challenge it legally. Kathryn Krawczyk

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