October 9, 2019

During a 2017 meeting in the Oval Office, President Trump urged then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help coax the Justice Department into dropping a criminal case against one of Rudy Giuliani's clients, three people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News.

Tillerson said he would not do this, as he would be interfering in an ongoing investigation, and others in the room were shocked by the request, Bloomberg News reports. Giuliani, a longtime supporter of Trump, is now the president's personal lawyer, but wasn't at the time. After the meeting, Tillerson conferred with then-Chief of Staff John Kelly in the hallway, telling him that what Trump asked him to do was illegal and he objected to the request, Bloomberg News says.

Giuliani's client was an Iranian-Turkish gold trader named Reza Zarrab, and federal prosecutors in New York had charged him with dodging U.S. sanctions against Iran's nuclear program. Prosecutors said he had "close ties" with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and ultimately, Zarrab pleaded guilty and began cooperating. Zarrab testified against the head of international banking at Turkey's state-owned Halkbank and said Erdogan backed the bank's laundering effort. Erdogan has denied this.

Giuliani first told Bloomberg News that he did not discuss Zarrab's case with Trump, then backtracked, saying he might have. "Suppose I did talk to Trump about it — so what?" Giuliani said. "I was a private lawyer at the time." When asked if he spoke to Tillerson about the case, Giuliani responded, "You have no right to know that." For more on the matter, including concerns officials have over Trump's relationship with Erdogan, visit Bloomberg News. Catherine Garcia

12:07 a.m.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) probably made some important points on Monday night's Hardball about President Trump's alleged bribery, high crimes, and/or misdemeanors through subverting U.S. law and government apparatuses in service of his personal political benefit. But nobody will remember his point because in the middle of his interview with Chris Matthews, this happened:

Did Swalwell really submit to a massive attack of flatulence on live national television that was so loud his lapel microphone picked it up? He says no.

Hardball briefly toyed with turning the entire kerfuffle into an audio version of he-who-smelt-it-dealt-it.

But cooler minds prevailed. Or something.

Luckily, as we all know, conspiracy theorists are often persuaded by plausible explanations. Peter Weber

November 18, 2019

Hoping to end speculation about President Trump's surprise weekend visit to Walter Reed Medical Center, the White House released a memo on Monday night written by Trump's physician, who said the "trip was kept off the record" due to "scheduling uncertainties."

On Saturday, Trump underwent a "routine, planned interim checkup as part of the regular, primary preventative care he receives throughout the year," Dr. Sean Conley said. Trump has "not had any chest pain, nor was he evaluated or treated for any urgent or acute issues," he continued. "Specifically, he did not undergo any specialized cardiac or neurologic evaluations."

When a president or other notable person visits Walter Reed, staffers are usually notified ahead of time, people familiar with the matter told CNN, and this didn't happen on Saturday. Several doctors who treated former presidents and vice presidents said they found the unannounced hospital visit worrisome, including Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a cardiologist who treated former Vice President Dick Cheney. "It's concerning that there hasn't been any transparency in what occurred on Saturday," he told CNN before the memo was released.

In the memo, Conley said next year, he will put together a report with a full summary of Trump's labs and exam. With the president's consent, Conley did share Trump's cholesterol numbers, which are down from earlier this year. Catherine Garcia

November 18, 2019

On the eve of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman's public testimony before House impeachment investigators, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) sent a letter to House Republicans, questioning Vindman's credibility.

Vindman, the National Security Council's top Ukraine expert and a Purple Heart recipient, is set to testify on Tuesday. He listened to President Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and immediately shared his concerns over Trump's request that Zelensky launch an investigation into a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter.

In his letter, Johnson opines that there are "bureaucrats and staff members within the executive branch" who have "never accepted President Trump as legitimate and resent his unorthodox style and his intrusion onto their 'turf.' They react by leaking to the press and participating in the ongoing effort to sabotage his policies and, if possible, remove him from office. It is entirely possible that Vindman fits this profile."

Johnson tried to defend Trump throughout the letter, saying he could not recall Trump ever talking to him about the Bidens, while also attacking the whistleblower whose complaint about Trump's call launched the House impeachment inquiry. "If the whistleblower's intention was to improve and solidify the relationship between the U.S. and Ukraine, he or she failed miserably." Catherine Garcia

November 18, 2019

Since being deported from the United States, Maria Butina has received several job offers in Russia, including one with the human rights commission.

Butina, 31, pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiring to act as a foreign agent for Russia. She infiltrated the National Rifle Association and influenced Republican and conservative activists to promote Russian interests in the 2016 presidential election. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison, but was released last month after serving 15 months. She was deported on Oct. 26.

When she arrived back in Russia, Butina was greeted by cheering supporters. She made her first public appearance since then on Monday, alongside the country's human rights commissioner, Tatyana Moskalkova. Moskalkova invited Butina to "work in our group defending compatriots abroad," explaining: "I'm sure together we'll be able to do a lot of good for people who've ended up in tough situations abroad." Butina did not say if she'll take the job or if she'll accept another offer to work in Russia's lower house of parliament, Reuters reports.

Also on Monday, Butina's former boyfriend, conservative political operative Paul Erickson, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering. Authorities say the South Dakota businessman promised dozens of clients returns of up to 150 percent, but in reality stole $2.3 million from them. He was accused of using this money on personal expenses for Butina. Catherine Garcia

November 18, 2019

Two prison guards assigned to watch accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein on the night he took his own life are expected to be charged with falsifying prison records, a person with knowledge of the matter told The Daily Beast on Monday.

Epstein was arrested on July 6 and held in New York City's Metropolitan Correctional Center while awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy. Epstein was in a special unit, and while he was no longer on suicide watch, guards were supposed to check on him every 30 minutes. On Aug. 10, he was found hanging from a bed sheet in his cell, and the New York City medical examiner confirmed that his death was a suicide.

Federal investigators have been trying to determine how Epstein was able to take his own life, and there have been multiple reports that the unnamed guards fell asleep on the job and altered records to cover their tracks. The charges against the guards could be filed as soon as Tuesday, The Daily Beast reports. Catherine Garcia

November 18, 2019

A career official at the Internal Revenue Service who filed a whistleblower complaint over the summer, accusing at least one political appointee at the Treasury Department of trying to interfere with an audit of President Trump's tax returns, met with Senate Finance Committee staff members earlier this month, a congressional aide told The New York Times.

The whistleblower spoke with staffers for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman and ranking Democrat of the Senate Finance Committee. The whistleblower contacted the staff of the House Ways and Means Committee in July, claiming that political appointees were getting involved in the audit and putting pressure of some kind on senior IRS officials, the Times reports.

Details of the allegations remain unclear, and the House Ways and Means Committee is still reviewing the complaint. "We generally do not comment on whistleblower meetings, their contents, or even if they happened," Michael Zona, a spokesman for Grassley, told the Times. "Additionally, federal law prohibits the discussion of protected taxpayer information."

A person familiar with the matter told the Times the complaint does not directly implicate Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has refused to comply with a congressional request to release six years worth of Trump's personal and business tax returns. Catherine Garcia

November 18, 2019

Mina Chang, the deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Conflict and Stability Operations, resigned on Monday, just a few hours after NBC News asked her spokeswoman about several false claims Chang made about her nonprofit and education.

In her resignation letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chang said she was "unfairly maligned, unprotected by my superiors, and exposed to a media with an insatiable desire for gossip and scandal, genuine or otherwise." She also said her resignation is actually "a protest," and not "surrender, because I will not surrender my commitment to serve, my fidelity to the truth, or my love of country."

NBC News reported last week that she embellished her résumé, claiming among other things that she was a "graduate" of a program at the Army War College, when she actually just attended a four-day seminar. Chang also showed people a Time cover with her face on it, which a magazine spokesperson said was "not authentic."

Since that report, NBC News uncovered more falsehoods. Chang said in 2012, she won a CBS Humanitarian of the Year Women That Soar award, but it was actually a Dallas, Texas, honor, and the ceremony aired on a local CBS affiliate. Chang also said she earned a degree in international development from the University of Hawaii, but that program does not exist. She visited Afghanistan in 2015, saying it was a humanitarian mission facilitated through her nonprofit Linking the World, but NBC News reports the trip was paid for by a defense contractor, no aid was delivered, and she lied about the people she met. Read more about these tall tales at NBC News. Catherine Garcia

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