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March 26, 2019

President Trump's good week just keeps getting better.

Late Monday, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said he'd let the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers use up to $1 billion of the military's budget to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. The approval came in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, which specified that the money would go toward fencing, road improvements, and lighting near the border, CNN details.

In his letter, Shanahan specified that the $1 billion will fund 57 miles of "18-foot-high pedestrian fencing," per Bloomberg. It'll specifically be used "within the Yuma and El Paso Sectors of the border," and will also go toward "constructing and improving roads and installing lighting" in the area, Shanahan wrote. A league of Democratic senators quickly teamed up to write a response to Shanahan, saying he didn't ask congressional defense committees for approval before okaying the fund transfer.

Trump has long discussed using military money to build his border wall after Congress continually rejected his pleas for wall funding. Congress did give him $1.3 billion in the most recent budget, but Trump still declared a national emergency in an attempt to secure a few more billion dollars.

The Trump victory comes after Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not draw a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice, and after Attorney General William Barr decided not to charge the president on that crime. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:47 a.m.

Northern Irish journalist Lyra McKee's death is forcing politicians to face hard truths, as dormant sectarian violence threatens to resurface in Northern Ireland.

At McKee's funeral in Belfast on Wednesday, the priest administering the service, Father Martin Magill, commended Northern Irish politicians — unionists and republicans alike — for their joint statement condemning violence and urging for calming following McKee's murder.

Many notable political leaders were sitting in the front pews, including Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. But after the compliment, Magill directly challenged those in front of him, sparking a standing ovation from attendees.

The 29-year-old journalist was killed last Thursday while watching a riot in Derry, Northern Ireland, by stray bullets from dissident republicans believed to be affiliated with the New Irish Republican Army, a recently formed Irish nationalist militant group that does not recognize the terms of the Good Friday Agreement signed in 1998, which put a halt to sectarian violence in North Ireland.

In addition to McKee's murder, a large bomb detonated in Derry in January, though there were no casualties.

The New IRA apologized for McKee's death, but the response from Derry's citizens was not positive.

Tim O'Donnell

11:14 a.m.

Move over, geologists: there's a new field of scientific study in town.

NASA's InSight spacecraft detected a potential earthquake on Mars earlier this month, and scientists are rejoicing over the discovery of the "marsquake."

"We've been collecting background noise up until now, but this first event officially kicks off a new field: Martian seismology!" NASA geologist Bruce Banerdt said, per NBC News.

The tremor was too small to help NASA obtain any information on the Red Planet's interior, NBC News reports, but scientists are hoping the discovery will lead the seismometer to detect bigger earthquakes.

"We've been waiting months for our first marsquake," Philippe Lognonné, the principal investigator for the seismometer, said in a statement. "It's so exciting to finally have proof that Mars is still seismically active. We're looking forward to sharing detailed results once we've studied it more and modeled our data."

Lognonné expects larger quakes in the future to help determine crust thickness and core size, per NBC. Marianne Dodson

11:02 a.m.

Another Republican has hopped on the impeachment train.

After the Mueller report detailed President Trump's failure to take what Michael Gerson calls "a criminal plot by a hostile foreign government" to the FBI, the chief speechwriter for former President George W. Bush writes that "House leaders should lay the groundwork for impeachment." This move strays from politics' usual goals of "partisanship" and "endless fundraising," Gerson continues in his Monday op-ed for The Washington Post, but adds that this choice will "echo across the decades."

As Gerson describes in the Post, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report "shows that Trump and members of his campaign team were willing — actually, eager — to cooperate with Russian attempts to subvert a presidential election." Trump also "ordered subordinates to lie about their ties to the Russians," Gerson continues, going on to decry Attorney General William Barr for "provid[ing] cover for those deceptions." Yet Congress, Gerson writes, is "punting" its "responsibility" to hold Trump accountable for these actions. It's time for impeachment, Gerson finishes, because "the honor of the presidency now depends on the actions of Congress."

Gerson has previously authored Post op-eds saying Trump is a "Russian stooge" and a "danger to democracy." But it ran just ahead of another Republican's call for impeachment, this one from former Trump transition staffer J.W. Verret, published Tuesday in The Atlantic. Verret was not a "Never Trumper," but opposed Trump on several policy points. And after reading the Mueller report twice, he reached a "tipping point" with Trump's leadership and said "Republicans in Congress" should have reached it too. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:52 a.m.

President Trump just put a reporter from The Washington Post on blast for the weirdest reason imaginable.

Trump tweeted on Wednesday that he didn't actually call journalist Robert Costa for an interview that was published the night before. Instead, Trump said, he "returned his call!"

Not only was Trump strangely insisting that calling someone back can't accurately be described as calling them, but this is also exactly how Costa originally described the situation, anyway. Costa tweeted on Tuesday that Trump had called him "in response to my request for comment" about a different story and then took additional questions. In other words, Trump returned his call.

Costa was quick to point this out, tweeting back at Trump on Wednesday, "Yes, I noted this last night, before the interview posted." As the president's especially active week on Twitter continues, which reporter's statement will he call out — while at the same time confirming is completely accurate — next? Brendan Morrow

10:18 a.m.

Steven Spielberg and Netflix seem to have buried the hatchet — if there ever even was one to begin with.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Board of Governors in a meeting on Tuesday decided not to make any changes to its Oscars eligibility rules, per CNBC. Going forward, a movie will still only have to play in theaters for a minimum of one week in Los Angeles in order to qualify for the awards, Variety notes, and it's still allowed to be released on streaming immediately.

There had previously been reports that Spielberg was engaged in a full-on war with Netflix and would be proposing a rule change at this meeting that would affect the streamer, which debuts its movies online either the same day as they open theatrically or a few weeks later. For example, a rule could be implemented requiring films to play in theaters for a longer period of time to be eligible or requiring they be exclusive to theaters for some time.

This war, as it turns out, may have been overblown. Spielberg didn't even end up attending this meeting let alone propose anything, and The New York Times cites sources as saying Spielberg is actually less frustrated with streaming services than with major theater exhibitors who refuse to play films like Roma since they require a lengthy exclusivity window. In fact, Spielberg reportedly lobbied AMC and Regal to play Netflix's Roma to no avail.

Breaking his silence on the issue, Spielberg told the Times that people should be able to watch movies "in any form or fashion that suits them," whether that's on the big screen or the small screen, although did still exalt the importance of movie theaters. Ironically, reports suggest Netflix may be giving its upcoming The Irishman a robust theatrical release, meaning Spielberg may get his wish without any rules changes even being required. Brendan Morrow

10:05 a.m.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is out for revenge.

That's what former President Barack Obama's senior adviser David Axelrod thinks, at least. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that during Nielsen's tenure in Washington she tried to draw up a plan to prevent Russian election interference in 2020, but was rebuffed by acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who said the subject should be kept below President Trump's level.

Axelrod, who has his fair share of White House experience, believes this story might just be the start of a slew of negative stories about the Trump administration following Nielsen's resignation in April after clashing with the president over immigration policies. Axelrod's theory is that the source may be none other than Nielsen herself.

The New Yorker's Susan Glasser also hinted at the idea in recent weeks after The Washington Post reported on the White House proposing to release immigrant detainees in sanctuary cities to hurt political opponents. That story also cited DHS officials.

That said, not everyone's on board with the idea of turning Nielsen into a Trump-fighting vigilante leaker. "Water cannon" or not, Union Veterans Council director Will Fischer says even a revenge plot won't make him a fan. Tim O'Donnell

9:21 a.m.

President Trump has a few intense details to add to reports of a Mexico-U.S. conflict at the border.

On April 13, Mexican soldiers confronted two U.S. troops in a remote part of Texas, as they apparently thought the service members had crossed the southern border and were in Mexico, U.S. officials said Tuesday. Trump took that account to the next level in a Wednesday tweet, saying "Mexico's soldiers recently pulled guns" on the service members, and that he was "sending armed soldiers to the border" in apparent retaliation.

The incident happened in part of Texas where the border wall is actually built north of the actual border, U.S. Northern Command told The Associated Press in a statement. Northern Command said there was a "brief discussion" between the soldiers, and that the Mexican troops eventually left. But Newsweek reports the American troops were searched, and that one reportedly had his gun removed from his hip and thrown inside a car. It's unclear if Trump means he'll send additional armed soldiers to the border, seeing as the Newsweek report suggests the U.S. troops involved were armed and at the border already. Kathryn Krawczyk

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