August 13, 2019

When it emerged last week that the National Rifle Association and its estranged advertising firm, Ackerman McQueen, had moved to buy NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre and his wife, Susan, a $6 million mansion in suburban Dallas last year, the NRA insisted that "not a cent of NRA money was ultimately spent" on the abortive real estate purchase.

On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that it obtained a copy of a $70,000 check the NRA sent in May 2018 to WBB Investments LLC, a Delaware entity created a week previously. The money was intended as earnest money toward an offer on the 10,000-square-foot, four-bedroom, nine-bath French country–style estate in a gated golf club community, a person familiar with the transaction told the Journal. New York's attorney general is investigating the proposed purchase as part of a larger review of the NRA's nonprofit status.

"The NRA made a nominal payment to help facilitate the process for a real estate transaction that was supposedly being undertaken by Ackerman McQueen following the Parkland tragedy," NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam told the Journal. The check was reportedly returned after the deal fell apart. Ackerman McQueen said it's "patently false" that anyone other than LaPierre was driving the transaction.

Last week, The Washington Post reported that LaPierre wanted the NRA to buy him the property because "he was worried about being targeted and needed a more secure place to live" after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. LaPierre requested that WWB Investments be created to facilitate the purchase, the Post reported, and the LaPierres "were intensely involved in the selection of the property." Emails described to the Post show that Susan LaPierre was concerned there wasn't enough closet space in the men's master bedroom and bathroom.

ProPublica and The Trace published documents last week showing that NRA accountants reviewing the books flagged the $70,000 payment as a top concern and violation of the organization's "accounts payable procedures." Nonprofit lawyer Elizabeth Kingsley told the Journal that "if there's a check from the NRA to an LLC, that doesn't seem consistent with a story that Ackerman was going to pay for it." Peter Weber

4:07 a.m.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a 476-page report Monday detailing his conclusions about the FBI's investigation of Russian election interference and people associated with President Trump's 2016 campaign. The report had a little something for everyone, disclosing "significant inaccuracies and omissions" at the FBI but also dismantling Trump's accusations that the FBI investigated his campaign for political reasons, broke the law, and launched its investigations without sufficient legal or factual basis.

The reactions to Horowitz's report were mostly positive and wildly divergent.

FBI Director Christopher Wray emphasized to ABC News that he doesn't see any evidence that his agency "unfairly targeted the Trump campaign," but acknowledged the FBI's shortcomings and said he has proposed 40 corrective actions.

"I think it's important that the inspector general found that in this particular instance the investigation was opened with appropriate predication and authorization," Wray said, and without "political bias or improper motivations" in "opening the investigation or the decision to use certain investigative tools," including electronic surveillance.

Trump claimed Horowitz uncovered FBI malfeasance "far worse than what I ever thought possible" and said incorrectly that the report pointed to "an attempted overthrow" of his government. He suggested the "overthrow" might have succeeded if he hadn't taken certain unspecified actions, likely meaning his firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Comey claimed vindication in a Washington Post op-ed and on CNN Monday night. "On all the important things," the report "tells the truth," he said, and the truth is that Trump has been lying about the FBI for two years. "People have internalized the lies they've heard," including his mother-in-law, Comey said. "Good people believe when a president says something, so they've heard 'treason' and they've heard 'spying' and they've heard 'informants in the campaign' for two years," and "it's a risk we've become so numb to the lying that we just move on to the next outrage, and we can't do that."

Comey took responsibility for the errors uncovered in the report, but insisted they didn't affect the investigation and the FBI had no choice but to act: "The facts were there, and we should have been fired if we didn't follow up on the facts that we received in late July — and we followed up, as you know, quietly, we didn't reveal it to anyone, we didn't leak it to anyone." Peter Weber

1:45 a.m.

"It's 16 days until Christmas, but we got a little present today ahead of time from the inspector general of the Justice Department," Stephen Colbert said on Monday's Late Show. For years, President Trump has insisted that "the 2016 Russia probe started only because of anti-Trump bias in the FBI. He said that was the real scandal. Well, today, after months of investigating, the DOJ inspector released his report finding no bias, concluding that the FBI had sufficient evidence to lawfully open the Russia investigation."

"Okay, there it is," Colbert said. "Truth wins. This wasn't an overthrow of the government, this wasn't even an attempted overthrow, and no one was 'in on it.'" He chose those words because, as he showed, Trump used them to claim the exact opposite. "Okay, I didn't read that part," Colbert deadpanned. "So you're saying the 'Deep State' was trying to overthrow your government when they started the Russia investigation in July of 2016, before you were elected?" Nothing Trump said "was actually in the report," he emphasized. Trump is just spinning "an alternate reality he wants to exist."

"So on one level, obviously, this is fun, and ha ha ha," Colbert said. "But it's also really dangerous, because why have an election if next Nov. 3 he can just say, 'I just saw the election results — I won all 50 states, plus Manitoba'?" The report also had some new information about former British spy Christopher Steele, who compiled the infamous dossier on Trump. Steele said he was "favorably disposed" toward the Trump family before he started digging, because he had "been friendly" with Ivanka Trump, Colbert noted. He also touched on Trump's impeachment, bizarre speech to a Jewish group over the weekend, and ... Ivanka. Watch below. Peter Weber

12:50 a.m.

President Trump and his allies have hinged their "witch hunt" narrative in part on private text messages the Trump administration released between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and FBI agent Peter Strzok, both of whom have since left the FBI. Some of the text messages suggested the pair would have preferred that Hillary Clinton, not Trump, win the 2016 election.

The report Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released Monday on the FBI's handling of the Trump-Russia investigation found no "documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation" influenced the decision to investigate members of Trump's 2016 campaign, including from Page — who played no role in those decisions — or Strzok.

Horowitz's report did, interestingly, include some text messages between two FBI agents and a special supervisory agent (SSA) with an evident pro-Trump, anti-Clinton bias.

In Nov. 9, 2016, text messages, the supervisory agent said he "was so elated with the election" and volunteered to investigate the Clinton Foundation "if you hear talk of a special prosecutor." When confronted with his texts, the SSA explained it was "just energizing to me to see" Clinton lose because "I didn't want a criminal to be in the White House."

In Horowitz's previous report on the FBI and the 2016 election, he detailed how FBI and Justice Department leaders were so concerned about anti-Clinton leaks from the FBI's New York field office — former Attorney General Loretta Lynch told Horowitz it was "clear to me that there is a cadre of senior people in New York who have a deep and visceral hatred of Secretary Clinton" — they decided they had to publicly disclose that the FBI was briefly reopening the Clinton email investigation in late October 2016.

"It played as a stunning piece of news, a fresh gust of scandal 11 days before the election," The New York Times recounted Sunday. Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, then a top campaign surrogate, had teased this "surprise," citing FBI agents, showing yet again "that working with virtually nothing, he could cultivate the mere existence of investigations to his political benefit." Peter Weber

December 9, 2019

The #MeToo movement will be under a new kind of spotlight at the 77th Golden Globe Awards.

Monday's Golden Globe nominations include Bombshell, The Morning Show, and The Loudest Voice, all of which touch on sexual harassment as illuminated by the #MeToo movement.

It's been more than two years since the Time's Up and #MeToo movements sent shockwaves through Hollywood. And in true headline-pulling Hollywood fashion, stories centering around the movements were adapted for both the big and small screens.

Both the movie Bombshell and the mini-series The Loudest Voice are about the real-life ex-Fox News executive, Roger Ailes. The former media bigwig was accused of sexual harassment by multiple female employees. His most prominent accusers were Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly, who Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron portrayed in Bombshell. Margot Robbie, who plays a fictional character, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama, and Theron was nominated for Best Actress. In The Loudest Voice, Russell Crowe nabbed a Limited Series acting nomination for his depiction of Ailes.

Apple TV+'s first original series, The Morning Show, is about a fictional morning show resembling The Today Show and its Matt Lauer scandal. It too snagged some major Golden Globe nominations for both of its lead actresses, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston.

While #MeToo previously left its mark on the awards show via impassioned acceptance speeches and dress code protests, it looks like this year will reach a whole new, slightly meta level, with celebrities applauding and awarding projects focused on the very movements that have taken hold in their industries. However, there is irony in the fact that the nominations were far from a major win for women: not one woman was nominated in the best director category. Brielle Diskin

December 9, 2019

It's been a big day for transparency and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg's Democratic presidential campaign.

Buttigieg, who has faced scrutiny recently over his time between 2007 and 2010 working at the consulting firm McKinsey and Co., will be able to disclose the identity of his former clients after the firm gave him the go ahead to break his confidentiality agreement. In a statement, McKinsey said that while protecting their clients usually takes top priority, Buttigieg's presidential bid makes for extraordinary circumstances.

In other Buttigieg news, the mayor will open his campaign fundraisers to the public and unveil the names of his contributors. The fact that he had so far kept those things under wraps was something other candidates — notably Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — had pinpointed about his campaign, as the 37-year-old continues to try to fully break into the top tier of Democratic contenders. Tim O'Donnell

December 9, 2019

There's nothing fishy about what's happening in Alaska.

The state's cod population in the Gulf of Alaska has dropped to an unprecedented low, leading Anchorage's federal cod fishery to announce Friday it would close for the 2020 season. And it's becoming very clear why: As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Monday, 2019 has so far been Alaska's warmest year on record.

NOAA measuring stations in Anchorage, Cold Bay, Homer, and Kodiak have all reported their warmest November on record, culminating in the whole state's fourth-warmest autumn of all time. That leaves 2019 as Alaska's warmest year so far, narrowly beating out 2016 as Alaska's hottest year since measurements first started in 1925.

Monday's NOAA report lends concrete proof of what fisheries in Alaska have experienced. Another NOAA assessment of Gulf cod populations taken this fall showed there were "next to no" new eggs among the cod population, largely thanks to warming ocean waters stemming from climate change. And with the Gulf of Alaska's fishery closed for the first time ever, whole communities who depend on the fishing economy are now at risk. Kathryn Krawczyk

December 9, 2019

It's been a pretty good year for Stephen Strasburg, to say the least.

The right-handed pitcher is sticking with the Washington Nationals for what will likely be the remainder of his career, just a few weeks after he led the franchise to its first ever World Series title. Strasburg, who was crowned World Series MVP, turned his performance into a massive 7-year, $245 million contract Monday, making him the highest paid pitcher ever — in terms of both overall contract and average annual salary.

It's quite a pay raise for the former No. 1 overall draft pick. Strasburg actually signed a long-term deal to remain in D.C. in 2016. That deal was anything but paltry — it was a 7-year contract worth $175 million, with an opt-out clause — but before 2019, it wasn't clear if Strasburg would exercise that opt-out because of the difficult state of MLB free agency. His on-field performance, particularly in the postseason, eventually made the decision a no-brainer.

Strasburg might only hold on to his monetary record for a short time, though. Houston Astros starter Gerrit Cole is also expected to snag a deal somewhere in that neighborhood and it looks like there might be a bidding war for his services between high-rollers like the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Los Angeles Angels. Tim O'Donnell

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