March 12, 2019

The Justice Department on Tuesday revealed it had uncovered a massive college entrance exam cheating scam, charging 33 parents for using "bribery and other forms of fraud to facilitate their children's admission" into colleges. Those charged include actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, along with several NCAA Division I coaches who allegedly accepted bribes. Here are 5 of the wildest details in the indictments.

1. The kids weren't always in on it. The criminal complaint alleges that "in many instances," students didn't know any cheating was going on at all. No students or schools were charged Tuesday.

2. It's easy to be a Maxxinista. When a parent suggested a $160,000 donation could secure a spot on Stanford University's sailing team, a cooperating witness running the scheme scoffed, saying: "That's not all it takes. This is not TJ Maxx or Marshall's."

3. Athletics were huge. The Yale University women's soccer coach allegedly knew a recruit didn't even play soccer, but was paid $1.2 million and let her on the team anyway.

4. So was Photoshopping. Parents allegedly paid to have photos of their children edited onto the bodies of pole vaulters or water polo players to get them recruited as athletes, often dissing their kids' athletic abilities along the way. Students allegedly quit the teams once they got on campus or faked injuries.

5. Huffman loves Scooby Doo.

Unrelated bonus: It's not in the charges, but Loughlin's daughter, in an video announcing she was going to the University of Southern California, said "I don't really care about school" and "I don't know how much of school I'm gonna attend."

And another one: This 2016 tweet from Huffman is just begging for witty replies. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:45 a.m.

President Trump had a few more things to say about women this morning.

Trump called into Fox & Friends on Friday for his regular bout of "stress relief," as host Brian Kilmeade called it, launching into a rant about ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who testified in a public impeachment hearing last week. It was Trump who did that ousting more than six months ago, and yet he still had some complaints about how Yovanovitch apparently decorated the embassy during her tenure.

In multiple sentences, Trump explained how Yovanovitch apparently refused to hang up his picture at the embassy in Ukraine. "She said bad things about me, she refused to defend me," Trump complained. "This was not an angel, this woman." Then, stopping himself before saying "she wouldn't hang" his picture again, Trump relayed his interpretation of a conversation with a GOP lawmaker who interviewed Yovanovitch at her hearing. "Why are you being so kind?" Trump apparently asked. "'Well, sir, she's a woman. We have to be nice,'" he claims they responded.

Next up, Trump went after one of the women who's firmly on his side: Kellyanne Conway. Conway's husband George Conway is one of Trump's top antagonists, and Trump on Friday blamed Kellyanne for that, saying "She must've done some bad things to him, because that man's crazy." Kathryn Krawczyk

9:31 a.m.

President Trump was having such a doozy of a morning that even the Fox & Friends team didn't seem to know what to make of it. Trump had phoned into the show only to give a lengthy and convoluted interview, at one point even hawking debunked conspiracy theories about Ukraine and prompting co-host Steve Doocy to gently try to get him to walk the comments back.

"It's interesting, it's very interesting, they have the server, right, from the DNC, from the Democratic National Committee," Trump began. Co-host Brian Kilmeade intervened to clarify, "Who has the server?"

"The FBI went in and told them 'get out of here, we're not giving it to you,'" Trump said by way of answer. "They gave the server to Crowdstrike, or whatever it's called, which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian. And I still want to see that server … Why did they give it to a Ukrainian company?"

Doocy intervened: "Are you sure they did that?" he asked carefully. "Are you sure they gave it to Ukraine?"

"Well, that's what the word is," Trump said.

The president appeared to be referring throughout to a debunked conspiracy theory that alleges the Ukrainians, not the Russians, meddled in the 2016 election. Nevertheless, the U.S. intelligence community has unanimously agreed that it was Russia that was behind the DNC hack; experts recently have gone as far as to say that efforts to redirect blame toward Ukraine are actually being engineered by Moscow.

Fiona Hill, the Russian expert who testified Thursday at the impeachment inquiry, had warned Republicans to "please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests," including the "fictional narrative" about Ukraine. Listen to Trump's comments below. Jeva Lange

7:55 a.m.

Everybody has a dream. And if you have the top-rated late night talk show, your network might even bankroll it for you.

No matter what you think of Stephen Colbert's politics, his knowledge of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth in unimpeachable. New Zealand "is such a beautiful country, such a magical place, that I'm not surprised it was used as the locations for Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies," he said on Thursday's Late Show. "And as you may know, writer and director Peter Jackson cast me in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I had the very important role of Lake-town spy. So when I was back in New Zealand, I sat down with my friend Peter and talked with him about the next logical step in the Lord of the Rings movie franchise."

Colbert's pitch to Jackson involved the human protagonist of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Aragorn. "What about this for a backstory?" Colbert asked. "My character is actually Aragorn's slightly hotter twin brother, Darrylgorn." Jackson declined to direct this literary abomination, of course, but he agreed to make a cameo. And Colbert had a trailer for his Darrylgorn spinoff ready to roll. It is quite silly, and it doesn't even make any sense, really — Aragorn would have been about 10 years old during the Hobbit movies Colbert's adult character appeared in, for example.

But that's beside the point. This is a self-referential, winking labor of love. The three Lord of the Rings movies and three Hobbit movies were box office hits, "and now, after 1,179 minutes, the real saga finally begins," the voiceover to the trailer intones. Watch below. Peter Weber

6:44 a.m.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz did uncover a flaw in the FBI's initial application to surveil Trump campaign aide Carter Page in 2016, CNN and The Washington Post report, and Horowitz will include it in his final report on the origins of the investigation of Russian campaign interference and President Trump's campaign. Horowitz is expected to release his report Dec. 9 and testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee two days later.

A low-level FBI lawyer may have made "substantive change to an investigative document" used to secure a FISA court warrant to monitor Page's communications, and "the alterations were significant enough to have shifted the document's meaning," CNN reports. But, the Post adds, the line lawyer's "conduct did not alter Horowitz’s finding that the surveillance application" had "a proper legal and factual basis." In fact, Trump campaign officials have "corroborated Special Counsel Robert Mueller's finding that the Trump campaign planned some of its strategy around the Russian hacks, and had multiple contacts with Kremlin-linked individuals in 2016," CNN notes.

The unidentified FBI lawyer "altered an email to back up" an erroneous claim about having purported documentation, the Post reports, and "the employee was forced out of the FBI after the incident was discovered." Horowitz reportedly shared this information with U.S. Attorney John Durham, who is conducting a parallel investigation of the origins of the Russia probe, "and Durham is expected to pursue the allegation surrounding the altered document to see whether it constitutes a crime," the Post reports. Peter Weber

5:38 a.m.

Numerous witnesses at the House impeachment hearings have testified that President Trump was refusing to grant a crucial meeting and unfreeze U.S. military aid to Ukraine until its new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, publicly announced investigations into Joe Biden, his son Hunter, and the gas company Burisma, on whose board Hunter Biden sat. Zelensky almost complied, but Trump released the money two days before the announcement.

On Thursday's Late Show, Stephen Colbert informed guest Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) that what Zelensky wouldn't do, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) will undertake instead. "There is news that just broke," he said, "that Lindsey Graham is launching a probe of the Bidens, Burma, and Ukraine. First question: What the hell?" He noted that Harris is on the Senate Judiciary Committee with Graham. "What do you make of this?" he asked.

"It's the same thing that they've been doing, which is to create a big distraction from the facts and the evidence," Harris said. "The Burisma, the Biden probe — it's a bunch of B.S." Colbert pointed out that even Republican impeachment witnesses like Kurt Volker said there's nothing there and you can't impugn Biden's character with this. Harris said Graham's investigation shows Republicans "know they have to create this big distraction" to keep America from focusing on "the fact that we have a criminal living in the White House."

Graham was, not too long ago, in agreement about Biden's character and rectitude, especially when it comes to his family.

Harris said she's skeptical her GOP colleagues will vote to convict Trump in the Senate, and explained why she wants Vice President Mike Pence to testify. Watch below. Peter Weber

4:34 a.m.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled his car company's first electric truck at an event in Los Angeles on Thursday, promising three versions of the odd, angular vehicle starting in late 2021. The Cybertruck is made of ultra-hard cold-rolled stainless steel and its windows are made of shatterproof "armored" glass. Musk called the truck "bulletproof" at the launch event, showing its durability by having chief Tesla designer Franz von Holzhausen smash the side with a sledge hammer and throw a metal ball at the windows. Musk seemed surprised when the windows shattered.

The price for the entry-level Cybertruck is $39,900, less expensive than expected, and the three-engine, 500-mile-range model will run $69,900. The Cybertruck will give Tesla entry into the extremely profitable truck market dominated in the U.S. by Ford and GM — both of whom are also preparing to roll out electric trucks in 2021. Ford and Amazon have also invested in an electric-vehicle startup, Rivian, which plans to sell its electric truck by the end of 2020.

Tesla has the world's top-selling electric car, the Model 3, but while it is taking aim at Detroit's rich truck market, "Ford and GM are also gearing up to challenge Tesla more directly with new offerings like the Ford Mustang Mach E electric SUV as well as electric pickups," Reuters notes. Musk has said the Cybertruck's polarizing design was inspired by the Lotus Esprit used by James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me and also referred to it a "futuristic-like cyberpunk, Blade Runner" design. You can watch more of the Cybertruck's rollout in the video below. Peter Weber

3:19 a.m.

Ivanka Trump, daughter and White House adviser of President Trump, found a quote sure to please her father and cultural conservatives as the House wrapped up five grueling days of public impeachment hearings. So of course she shared it on Twitter: "A decline of public morals in the United States will probably be marked by the abuse of the power of impeachment as a means of crushing political adversaries or ejecting them from office." — Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835

Unfortunately, this is not something Tocqueville, that astute French observer over American democracy, ever wrote.

In fact, the quote comes from a 1889 book, American Constitutional Law, Volume 1, by a judge named John Innes Clark Hare. And he was actually describing the necessity of impeachment, even as he argued it had been abused on President Andrew Johnson.

Hare wrote that since the framers of the Constitution decided that, unlike under English law, the executive would be independent of the legislature, there must be "means of removing or punishing an incapable or corrupt president," so they created a system wherein the president "might be brought to trial, and if need be, deposed." There is an unavoidable risk of partisan abuse, he added, but:

It was necessary to choose between leaving the executive wholly irresponsible during his term of office, and subjecting his conduct to the revision of a tribunal that might not be impartial; and the latter alternative was justly though preferable. It was long since remarked by de Tocqueville that a decline of public morals in the United States would probably be marked by the abuse of power of impeachment as a means of crushing political adversaries or ejecting them from office. [John Innes Clark Hare, American Constitutional Law]

Impeachment, Hare wrote, "is one of many proofs that the framers of our Constitution ... intended that the traditional checks and balance-wheels of the monarchy should not be wanting in the republic." Peter Weber

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