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May 17, 2019

The Trump administration explained its decision to send an aircraft carrier, other battleships, and bombers to the Persian Gulf region and evacuate diplomatic personnel from Iraq by pointing to credible threats of Iranian-backed attacks against U.S. or allies' "interests." But new reports suggest Iran has mostly been girding itself for U.S. aggression.

"Intelligence collected by the U.S. government shows Iran's leaders believe the U.S. planned to attack them, prompting preparation by Tehran for possible counterstrikes," The Wall Street Journal reports. The Daily Beast similarly says "U.S. intelligence officials assess that Iran's aggressive moves came in response to the administration's own actions."

Several lawmakers concurred. Based on the "very murky" intelligence, it appears "most of the activities that the Iranians are undertaking are in response to our very aggressive posture in the region," Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) told The Daily Beast. Specifically, according to three U.S. government officials, multiple U.S. intelligence agencies believe Tehran has been reacting to President Trump's "aggressive steps over the last two months," including new sanctions and efforts to isolate Iran but especially his decision to designate Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corp a terrorist organization.

The Pentagon opposed that decision, warning "it could lead to retaliatory attacks against U.S. troops by Iranian-backed forces in the Middle East," Politico reported in early April. Trump and his hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, overruled the generals, calling the Pentagon's warnings overblown.

"Israel was one of the main sources of intelligence on alleged Iranian plots against the U.S. and its allies in the region," Israeli journalist Barak Ravid writes in Axios, but Israeli intelligence doesn't see an "imminent risk of attack by Iran or its proxies" against Israeli interests, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his intelligence and military chiefs this week that "Israel would make every effort not to get dragged into the escalation in the Gulf and would not interfere directly in the situation." Peter Weber

9:10 a.m.

President Trump's former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, is set to testify Tuesday as part of the House Judiciary Committee's first impeachment hearing, and sparks are likely to fly.

Lewandowski will speak after the Judiciary Committee voted last week to set the guidelines of its hearings, with Democrats saying they're investigating whether to recommend articles of impeachment against Trump. But CNN notes this "could be a combative hearing," especially since when Lewandowski last appeared before Congress, things turned quite heated and expletive-laden. Unlike that 2018 hearing, Tuesday's will be public, beginning at 1:00 p.m. ET.

The White House on Monday directed Lewandowski, who never actually worked in the White House, not to talk about any conversations with the president outside of what's mentioned in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report. No significant new information, therefore, should be expected. As this is the first official impeachment hearing, it will be the first time that Judiciary staff questions a witness, The Washington Post reports.

Mueller in his report said that Trump instructed Lewandowski to tell then Attorney General Jeff Sessions to deliver a statement declaring that Trump has done nothing wrong and to limit the scope of the Mueller investigation. Lewandowski didn't do so. The report also says that on another occasion, Trump again told Lewandowski to deliver the message to Sessions and fire him if he refused. This time, Lewandowski passed that task off to another White House official, Rick Dearborn, who again didn't deliver it. Democrats have identified these incidents as examples of obstruction of justice by Trump; Mueller did not determine whether Trump obstructed justice.

Lewandowski, who is considering a 2020 Senate run, tweeted Monday morning that he's "excited" about the opportunity to testify and push back against the "angry Democrats who tried to take down a duly elected president." He also previewed this hearing as possibly serving essentially as a campaign stop by using the hashtag "#Senate2020." Brendan Morrow

8:37 a.m.

Israeli voters go to the polls Tuesday in an election that will determine whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stays in power. It is the country's second national election in five months, coming after Netanyahu's failed effort to form a governing coalition.

Netanyahu, seeking a fourth straight term with corruption charges against him looming, is the longest serving leader in Israel's history. Ahead of the vote, he promised to annex Jewish settlements in the Palestinian West Bank, and touted his relationship with President Trump, Politico reports. Retired military chief Benny Gantz's centrist Blue and White party was even with Netanyahu's Likud in polls ahead of the vote. Gantz said he offered a fresh start.

Either side was expected to have trouble forming a majority coalition. Harold Maass

8:35 a.m.

A bomb blast killed at least 24 people at a campaign rally for Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani, on Tuesday, The New York Times reports. At least 31 other people were wounded. Ghani was inside a building when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated the bomb outside. He was unhurt; many of the casualties were women and children, The Associated Press reports.

Ghani has been campaigning in his re-election bid mostly by video conference ahead of the Sept. 28 vote, which is taking place under threat of attacks by Taliban insurgents. The Taliban has vowed to disrupt the vote. Hours after the blast at the rally, another blast hit near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Few details on the second explosion were immediately available, and no group claimed responsibility for either blast. Harold Maass

7:52 a.m.

President Trump sought to appeal to Hispanic voters with a New Mexico rally Monday, though an oddly-phrased question directed at one of his supporters may have somewhat undermined that goal.

Trump at one point during his rally singled out Steve Cortes, an author and member of his Hispanic Advisory Council who has appeared on cable news in support of the president. He "happens to be Hispanic, but I've never quite figured it out, because he looks more like a WASP than I do," Trump said of Cortes.

The president declared that there's "nobody that loves this country more or Hispanics more" than Cortes, who was at the rally and who Trump then directly asked, "Who do you like more, the country or the Hispanics?" From off stage, Cortes apparently responded with the former, to which Trump responded, "I don't know, I may have to go with the Hispanics."

Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) was among those to push back on this distinction from Trump, tweeting in response, "I don't even know where to begin with that question. Hispanics are proud Americans. We are part of this country, just like you @realdonaldtrump. Do better."

Trump lost New Mexico by eight percentage points in 2016, and Axios reports his net approval rating there has dropped from +17 at the beginning of his presidency to -13 in July. Brendan Morrow

7:33 a.m.

The Women's March revealed Monday that three founding board members who have been accused of anti-Semitism, financial mismanagement, and other detrimental behavior are being replaced by 16 new board members from across the U.S. The original members — Tamika Mallory, Bob Bland, and Linda Sarsour — actually stepped down July 15, The Washington Post reports, though they were still listed as co-chairs through Monday. Bland and Mallory will be formally replaced as co-presidents when the new board meets this month and elects new leaders.

The Women's March told CNN in a statement that it "has not cut ties with the three departing board members; their terms have ended." The incoming board members — who include three Jewish women, two religious leaders, a member of the Lakota nation, and a transgender woman — "represent a truly diverse swath of women who have fought and will continue to fight tirelessly for women's equal rights," the statement added.

Most of the charges of anti-Semitism stem from the board members' associations with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. The original Women's March, the day after President Trump's inauguration in 2017, was one of the largest single-day protests in U.S. history, and the organization has continued to organize demonstrations, including one against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh planned for early October. But the anti-Semitism allegations, a contentious and unsuccessful battle to trademark "Women's March," and other issues have led to rival groups splintering off and the withdrawal of supporting organizations. Peter Weber

6:25 a.m.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) held one of the biggest rallies of her presidential run on Monday night, drawing a crowd her campaign estimated at above 20,000 to New York City's Washington Square Park. The centerpiece of her speech was the anti-corruption plan she had released just hours earlier, and on the role of women in enacting change.

Warren briefly mentioned President Trump, calling him "corruption in the flesh." But the arc of her speech tied together the nearby 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire and Frances Perkins, who was moved to fight for labor rights by the death more than 140 Triangle factory workers — mostly women — before she became President Franklin D. Roosevelt's labor secretary, the first female Cabinet member in U.S. history.

"What did one woman — one very persistent woman — backed up by millions of people across this country get done? Big structural change," Warren said. "Social Security. Unemployment insurance. Abolition of child labor. Minimum wage. The right to join a union. Even the very existence of the weekend."

Warren spoke for about 42 minutes, then stayed after for selfies. She appeared to reconsider her selfies-for-all tradition from the stage, telling the huge crowd, "Tonight is a little something different." Nevertheless she persisted in her custom, The New York Times notes, and she "finished taking pictures around 11:40 p.m. — nearly four hours after she finished her speech."

"With each big rally," the Times says, "Warren is solidifying her place in an exclusive club of presidential candidates who have become crowd magnets, exhilarating fans at events that can sometimes feel like rock concerts." Trump, who is part of that club, held his own rally in New Mexico on Monday night, and fellow 2020 Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also draws large audiences, including to a rally at least as large as Warren's in Washington Square Park right before he lost the 2016 New York primary to Hillary Clinton. Peter Weber

4:43 a.m.

Ric Ocasek, frontman for The Cars, died at age 75 on Sunday. On Monday's Late Show, Stephen Colbert paid tribute to one of his favorite artists. "1978 — Ric Ocasek was already 34 years old when their first album came out," Colbert said. "He wrote everything for The Cars, and his music was the soundtrack of my high school." He said he "couldn't believe it when Ric Ocasek came on The Colbert Report — I got to meet one of my greatest musical heroes, and then he started doing bits on the show." He showed one from 2006.

Conan O'Brien posted a full video clip from 2005 in which Ocasek — who apparently pronounced his last name Ok-caw-sik — agreed to practice a Grammys presentation with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. You can watch a true rock 'n' roll legend gamely shrug off insults from a dog puppet below. Peter Weber

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