September 9, 2019

The metaphors are a little heavy-handed, but the driving is impressive and the timing is impeccable. On the same day CNN reported that the CIA had to withdraw one of its top spies in Russia on fears that President Trump had compromised the spy's identity, former undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame launched her bid for Congress as a Democrat in New Mexico.

If you don't know the story of Plame being outed by then-Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby — and the coda of Trump pardoning Libby earlier this year — Plame narrates the outline as she speeds backward through the New Mexico desert in an American muscle car (no Aston Martin here, thank you very much).

Is that really Plame driving and peeling out in the dust like a seasoned stuntwoman or, you know, James Bond? She says yes. As in: "Yes, the CIA really does teach us how to drive like this." The slick ad, the sick driving chops, and her call for revenge will probably earn Plame attention in New Mexico (and Washington), but if she wins the Democratic primary to replace Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) — who is running for Senate — the partisan leanings of New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District suggest she'd be headed back to Washington. Peter Weber

6:17 a.m.

Stephen Colbert agreed with his fellow late-night hosts that the CDC's reliance on the honor system to keep unvaccinated Americans in masks is unlikely to be effective. "Okay, the only thing Americans need to stay safe is to be honest with themselves," he said on Monday's Late Show. "We are doomed. Do you know what the serving size of Oreos is? It's not 'sleeve.'"

Meanwhile, it was another "bad day for Florida congressman Matt Gaetz," Colbert said. "Gaetz is being investigated by the feds for alleged sex trafficking and having sex with a minor, and it looks like his so-called wingman is ready to sing, man." Today, Joel Greenberg "officially pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors."

"It's not just Greenberg's guilty plea that spells bad news for Gaetz," Colbert said. "We just learned that, reportedly, at a 2019 fundraiser, Gaetz snorted cocaine and had sex with an escort who was paid with campaign money. So don't worry, donors, you didn't flush your money down the drain — Gaetz placed it on the dresser." After a few more jokes, Colbert moved on. "Okay, enough GaetzGaete," he said. "Let's turn to a completely different story, GatesGaete!" His recap of Bill Gates' problems included a lot of Microsoft jokes.

Greenberg's plea deal "doesn't seem like great news for Gaetz," Late Night's Seth Meyes agreed. "I'd say Matt Gaetz should lay low for a while, but no matter how low he lays, you can still see the top of his head." More Gaetz revelations are probably coming but "we already knew about the drug-fueled sex parties and the trip to the Bahamas with his other buddy, a Florida hand surgeon and marijuana entrepreneur — which is one of the characters in Florida Clue, along with a vaping gator in a Margaritaville tank-top," he joked.

Grown men shouldn't have a "wingman," Meyers said, "but on the topic of wingmen, one could argue Rudy Giuliani served the role for Trump." Former President Donald Trump has reportedly "blown off Rudy's pleas for help," even though he "is deeply entangled in Rudy's mess, not to mention he's got his own legal problems, including multiple criminal investigations of his own." In fact, Meyers said. "I don't want to make generalizations, but there are more criminals or alleged criminals in Trump's inner circle than there are in a motorcycle gang or a Hollywood PTA meeting." Watch below. Peter Weber

5:17 a.m.

"Last week, the CDC officially announced that aside from a few exceptions, people who have gotten the COVID vaccine no longer need to wear masks to stay safe," Trevor Noah said on Monday's Daily Show. "But now, some people are telling the CDC to slow their roll," worried it's too soon to unmask, especially with no way to tell who is vaccinated.

The honor system is not a workable solution, Noah said. "I mean, have you ever seen the 10 Items or Less line?" In reality, "lots of unvaccinated people won't be wearing masks," while, "a lot of vaccinated people who don't need to wear a mask anymore are gonna keep doing it anyway," he said. "In fact, it kind of warms my heart a little bit to think that somewhere, a liberal who's wearing a mask even though he's vaccinated will run into a conservative wearing a mask to protect himself from vaccines, and the two of them will look at each other and think, 'Yeah, this guy gets it.'"

"For the new guidelines to work, the CDC is asking Americans to be honest about their vaccination status," Jimmy Fallon said at The Tonight Show. "Really? People can't even tell the truth on their Tinder profiles." In a boring new New York Times exposé, President Biden's advisers say he's "obsessed with details, asks many questions, and displays unexpected warmth," Fallon said. "The report also says that Biden's drink of choice is Orange Gatorade. Is it? Or is it just water with Metamucil?" He also had fun with Biden's unearthed Venmo history.

Biden apparently used his since-deleted Venmo account to send money to his granddaughters, Jimmy Kimmel said on Kimmel Live. "It's just weird to hear about a politician using Venmo to pay teenagers for something other than sex, isn't it?"

Kimmel also lingered on a new 60 Minutes report on UFOs. "The government calls them Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, UAP — just like the Cardi B song — and they've known about this for a couple years but they waited until now to talk about it," he said. "I feel like if this story had been on 60 Minutes in, like, 1988, it would be the only thing we talk about for the next 30 years," but after watching it, "you almost hope they're visitors from another planet, because if China has technology like this, we'd better learn to speak Mandarin like immediately." Peter Weber

2:41 a.m.

President Biden is trying to tackle a number of big problems, and he pretty clearly was hoping Mideast peace wasn't going to be one of them. But the long-simmering conflict between Israel and Hamas erupted again last week, more than 200 Palestinians and 10 Israelis are dead, and the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza and Hamas rockets for Israel show no sign of letting up.

Biden said Monday that he had voiced support for a ceasefire in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he isn't publicly pressuring Israel to accept a pause in fighting and Netanyahu has made clear he's not currently interested. Instead, Biden and his top aides have used some version of urging "calm" or a "sustainable calm" or de-escalating "tensions" more than 40 times over the past week, Politico reports. "What about 'peace,' 'peace talks,' or even 'ceasefire'? Not so much."

Biden and his team "have devoted relatively little time and staffing to the Israeli-Palestinian issue." Politico reports. "The administration, and many other observers, for that matter, also concluded that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have the political will to engage in serious negotiations." White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said "every statement we make is with the objective of reducing the violence and bringing an end to the conflict on the ground."

Ilan Goldenberg, a former Obama administration official, said calm may be the most realistic hope right now. "Honestly, every Israeli and Palestinian I talk to tells us not to use the word 'peace,'" he told Politico. "They tell us nobody in both societies thinks that is possible right now."

But advocates for Palestinians say Biden is aiming too low. Khaled Elgindy, director of the Program on Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli Affairs at the Middle East Institute, said calls for "calm" benefit Israel, because Israelis will resume relatively normal lives when the violence ends while Gazans, still under Israeli occupation, will return to bombed-out buildings and heavy casualties. Peter Weber

2:05 a.m.

Rudy Giuliani is arguably a lot of things, but he isn't the "head of a drug cartel" or "a terrorist," his lawyers say, and shouldn't be treated as such.

In a redacted letter made public on Monday, Giuliani's attorneys asked a Manhattan federal judge to unseal the affidavits in support of a November 2019 search warrant that prosecutors used to secretly obtain files from Giuliani's Apple iCloud account. At the time, Giuliani was serving as the personal lawyer to former President Donald Trump, and his attorneys say the iCloud files collected likely included "material relating to the impending impeachment, the welfare of the country, and to national security."

The judge is deciding whether a "special master" should be appointed to Giuliani's case to protect attorney-client privilege. Giuliani's attorneys have asserted that the unsealed affidavits will help prove their argument that "this unilateral, secret review was illegal," The Associated Press reports.

Giuliani's legal team described him in the letter as a "distinguished lawyer," and accused prosecutors of treating him "as if he was the head of a drug cartel or a terrorist, in order to create maximum prejudicial coverage of both Giuliani and his most well-known client — the former president of the United States."

Federal prosecutors are looking closely at Giuliani's ties to Ukraine and whether he violated federal laws regarding lobbying for foreign countries, AP reports. Before the 2020 presidential election, Giuliani went to Ukraine to try to dig up dirt on then-candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, and has said the work he conducted in the country was on behalf of Trump. Catherine Garcia

1:26 a.m.

Thanks to the members of Girl Scout Troops 2377 and 134, kids playing at two parks in northern Illinois will now always be able to find new friends.

The Scouts spent two years collecting more than 300 pounds of plastic bottle caps, and using money raised through cookie sales, had those caps made into rainbow-colored buddy benches. When a child sits on the bench, it indicates that they are looking for someone to play with, ensuring that no one feels left out.

The benches were installed last month at Converse Park in Island Lake and Fort McHenry Park in McHenry. Troop leader Kelly Bays told The Daily Herald the benches are a "tangible way for us to share the Girl Scout law with our community. The Girls Scouts were able to use resources wisely, make the world a better place, be friendly and helpful, caring and considerate, and be a sister to every Girl Scout as two troops worked together to do this project." For their hard work, the Scouts earned their Take Action award. Catherine Garcia

1:19 a.m.

A Bengal tiger was on the loose last week in Houston, America's fourth-largest city, after last being seen in a car driven by Victor Hugo Cuevas, who faces separate murder and evading arrest charges. A Houston businesswoman said Monday she arranged the handover of the tiger, India, on Saturday to Houston police and animal control.

It is a story that has almost everything — tigers, car chases, mystery, clubs licensed to display exotic animals, indicted criminals — and now it has a theme song, too. On Monday, former Survivor lead singer Dave Bickler paid homage to Houston's tiger drama by singing a revised version of his enduring hit "Eye of the Tiger" for Stephen Colbert's Late Show. Bickler's voice has aged very well, but his song has kind of a dark finale. Watch below. Peter Weber

12:46 a.m.

Guo Wengui, a Chinese businessman living in self-exile in New York, is at the center of a vast online network of media websites and social media accounts that spread false claims about coronavirus vaccines, election fraud, and the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, researchers from the Graphika network analysis company write in a new report released Monday.

Guo is close to Stephen Bannon, the onetime chief strategist to former President Donald Trump; last summer, Bannon was arrested on Guo's yacht on federal fraud charges. In its report, Graphika said Guo is the "linchpin" of the disinformation network, and the "leading personality" who "appears to define goals and messaging and is positioned as a wise leader who should be admired and followed."

The network includes the media websites GTV and GNews, and Guo is often featured in their videos; in April, he appeared in a GNews video calling COVID-19 vaccines "fake" and "poison," The Washington Post reports. Graphika says the network's thousands of social media accounts work in tandem to spread disinformation, and they "appear to be run by real people but solely amplify Guo-related content." These Guo supporters call themselves "ants" and are organized into local action groups called "Himalaya farms," Graphika said.

The Graphika report is "an important forensic analysis of the ways that rich and politically motivated people can manipulate social media," Joan Donovan, director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard's Shorenstein Center, told the Post. In an email to the Post, a spokesman for Guo said he does not control the content on GTV or GNews and "implying that Mr. Guo is responsible for everything that is posted on [GTV] is ludicrous." Read more at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

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