June 24, 2019

President Trump on Monday implemented harsh sanctions by executive order against Iran which targeted the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and others. But while a series of U.S.-imposed, Trump-approved sanctions have angered Tehran amid rising tensions between the two countries, the president might not be the antagonist in Tehran's eyes, said Trita Parsi, the head of the National Iranian American Council during a Monday appearance on The Hill's Rising.

Instead, he argues, that National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are the problem. Parsi said that Bolton and Pompeo are "walking around talking about regime change," which makes it difficult for Tehran to believe Trump's publicly stated desire to avoid conflict. He added that Iran is hearing directly from North Korea about Trump's willingness to make deals, but that Bolton and Pompeo wind up sabotaging negotiations.

"I suspect if Trump lets go of Bolton and potentially Pompeo, it could actually open up some space in which the Iranians would start at least beginning the first movements of diplomacy," Parsi said. But if that doesn't happen, he said, it's unlikely Tehran will come to the table. Tim O'Donnell

5:12 p.m.

If you want to get shredded like Star-Lord, why not cut out the middleman?

Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World star Chris Pratt has opened his own Amazon storefront hawking a wide variety of health and fitness products, including rowing machines, boxing gloves, and protein powders. Unfortunately for those who really want to get motivated for their next run, the lineup of products doesn't currently include any live dinosaurs.

Read more at People. Scott Meslow

4:40 p.m.

Earlier this year, superhero fans faced the terrifying possibility of a world where the seemingly limitless roster of Marvel Cinematic Universe superheroes didn't include Spider-Man, who was caught up in the messy web of a rights and profit-sharing dispute between Sony and Disney.

Spider-Man has since been added back into the Marvel fold — and as it turns out, the hero in this story is none other than Spider-Man himself, Tom Holland, who says he sealed the deal by getting drunk and crying in a phone call with Disney CEO Bob Iger.

For a superhero, it's an admittedly unconventional strategy for saving the day, but hey, who can argue with the results? Read more at Indiewire. Scott Meslow

4:35 p.m.

Congratulations to Emma Stone on her brand-new rock!

The Oscar-winning La La Land actress is engaged to Dave McCary, a segment director she met while filming a sketch for Saturday Night Live back in 2017, reports CNN. Who says workplace romances between attractive, talented people who spend a whole day making each other laugh can't work out?

Read more at CNN. Scott Meslow

4:16 p.m.

Working for Infowars' Alex Jones is about as nutty an experience as you'd expect, according to one former employee.

Josh Owens, an ex-video editor for Infowars, has written a piece in The New York Times Magazine describing bizarre behind-the-scenes details about working for the fringe conspiracy theorist, such as that Jones allegedly once dumped a bag containing an employee's pet fish in the trash, "wildly" stabbed a moldy water cooler, ripped blinds off the wall, yelled at employees to hit him, regularly removed his shirt, and "threatened to send out a memo banning laughter in the office," with his reasoning apparently being that "we're at war."

Owens also describes an incident in which Jones allegedly took employees to a private ranch in Texas to shoot guns and "after eating a few handfuls of jalapeño chips, he picked up an AR-15 and accidentally fired it in my direction." A bullet "hit the ground about 10 feet away from me," Owens says, prompting one employee to go off on Jones, who "claimed he had intentionally fired the gun as a joke — as if this were any better."

Throughout the piece, Owens expresses regret for working for Jones, especially because he recalls how doing so involved making up stories to fit Jones' narrative. "The information did not meet our expectations, so we made it up, preying on the vulnerable and feeding the prejudices and fears of Jones's audience," Owens writes, adding that "we ignored certain facts, fabricated others and took situations out of context to fit our narrative."

Jones responded to the piece by telling Mediaite it's "a compendium of lies, disinformation, and half-truths." Brendan Morrow

3:39 p.m.

The only thing standing between you and your Christmas presents could be President Trump's face.

Trump's 2020 campaign has rolled out its holiday gift collection featuring a literal "Trump train" carved from wood and a MAGA hat ornament. And before you hand them off to your loved ones, you can slap on some wrapping paper patterned with Trump in a Santa hat, available for just $30 a roll on the Trump campaign website.

If you're looking for something a little more subtle, there are two other wrapping papers without Trump's mug printed all over them. Oh, and speaking of mugs, there's a particularly interesting one of those as well. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:24 p.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden issued yet another challenge to an IQ test or push-up contest.

But the challenge isn't to President Trump this time. It's not even to a Republican. It's to an 83-year-old man who showed up to a Biden town hall in Iowa and declared he was "too old" to be president.

The man stood up at Biden's event Thursday and said that he's a "retired farmer" who's "kind of unique because I'm not a Republican." But "you're damn near as old as I am," he said. "I'm 83 and I know damn well I don't have the mental faculties I did." Then, the man got into the business that set Biden off. He described how he believed Democrats' accusations that President Trump "has been messing around in Ukraine," but then said Biden also "sent your son over there to get a job and work for a gas company ... so you're selling access just like he was."

"You're a damn liar," Biden harshly responded, and questioned the man's suggestion that he had "seen it on TV." "That's why I'm not sedentary, I get up," Biden fired back. Biden then defended his age by saying "let's do push-ups, man, let's take an IQ test." In an apparent slip of the tongue, Biden seemed to call the man "fat," and after the man affirmed he wasn't voting for Biden, Biden said "you're too old to vote for me." Watch the whole exchange below. Kathryn Krawczyk

Biden campaign senior adviser Symone Sanders later tweeted that Biden had said "look, facts," and hadn't called the man "fat." Kathryn Krawczyk

1:53 p.m.

Comments made by Tucker Carlson on his show last December just got Fox News hit with a lawsuit.

Karen McDougal, the model who alleges she had an affair with President Trump beginning in 2006, has filed a slander lawsuit against Fox News after Carlson said on his show last year, "Two women approached Donald Trump and threatened to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn't give them money," Variety reports. "Now that sounds like a classic case of extortion." The New York Times notes Carlson didn't use McDougal's name, but he put a picture of her on screen later in the segment.

In the lawsuit, McDougal says she did not approach Trump and threaten to ruin his career like Carlson said but instead sold her story to the National Enquirer for $150,000. Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, has said he reimbursed American Media Inc., the owner of the National Enquirer, in order to keep McDougal quiet about the alleged affair.

In the segment, Carlson's guest took issue with his characterization of events, saying, "We don't know that there was actual extortion here ... that hasn't been proven yet, nor has it even really been alleged." Carlson responded, "I'm alleging it because it's obvious ... it clearly is extortion."

"Carlson's statements were intentionally false and made with reckless disregard for the truth," the lawsuit says. Fox News says it will "vigorously defend Tucker Carlson against these meritless claims." Brendan Morrow

See More Speed Reads