June 29, 2020

When President Trump talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin or Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the phone, he is often unprepared, lacks historical knowledge, praises himself, and talks trash about former presidents, several people with firsthand knowledge of the calls told CNN's Carl Bernstein.

Over the last four months, Bernstein spoke with more than a dozen officials who have either listened to Trump's phone conversations with foreign leaders in real time or were given detailed summaries and recording printouts of the calls. They did not reveal any classified information, but did share their opinions on Trump's behavior, with one person saying the calls are "abominations" and if they ever told members of Congress about the conversations, even top Republicans would lose confidence in Trump.

During his talks with Putin, several sources told Bernstein, Trump mostly talks about himself and how successful he has been. Trump "sits there and thinks he can build himself up enough as a businessman and tough guy that Putin will respect him," one person recounted, while another said Trump "gives away the advantage that was hard won in the Cold War" in part by "giving Putin and Russia a legitimacy they never had."

Trump believes "he is a better judge of character than anyone else," one person told Bernstein, so he typically won't listen to expert analyses of how foreign leaders think. One of his first calls with Putin was "all over the place," one official said, but Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner — two of several officials in the room listening — immediately began praising Trump when the call ended.

While Trump fawned over Putin and Erdogan, he went out of his way to be combative with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former British Prime Minister Theresa May, and French President Emmanuel Macron, Bernstein reports. Trump told May she lacks courage, called Merkel "stupid," and would lecture Macron when he tried to convince him to take climate change seriously. One German official told Bernstein that Trump was "very aggressive," while Merkel stayed calm. Because the calls were "so unusual" and "problematic," the German government has gone above and beyond to keep their contents secret, the official added.

In response to the report, White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews told CNN that Trump is "a world class negotiator who has consistently furthered America's interests on the world stage." Catherine Garcia

8:22 p.m.

President Trump commuted the 40-month sentence of his friend and confidant Roger Stone, he announced Friday evening.

"Mr. Stone would be put at serious risk in prison," the White House said in a statement, calling him a "victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years." Stone was convicted witness tampering and making false statements to Congress, among other charges, after being indicted in former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe.

Stone was set to begin his prison term on Tuesday, though his lawyers did request a 60-day delay in starting that sentence, saying he would face medical risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The White House cited that "medical danger" in its statement announcing Trump's motion of clemency.

Trump called Stone "very unfairly treated" when talking to journalists earlier Friday, and was reportedly expected to pardon him soon. Still, Stone told journalist Howard Fineman on Friday he didn't want a pardon because it implies guilt. Kathryn Krawczyk

5:40 p.m.

Amazon employees can apparently download TikTok again.

On Friday, The New York Times broke the news that Amazon sent an email to employees telling them they had to delete TikTok from their cell phones due to "security risks." Staffers were reportedly told they needed to have the app deleted by Friday in order to continue accessing their Amazon email. It was major news that generated headlines across the internet following Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying earlier this week the United States was considering potentially banning the Chinese-owned app.

But just hours later, Amazon says actually, forget about all that, as the company now claims it sent the email to employees accidentally.

"This morning's email to some of our employees was sent in error," an Amazon spokesperson told The Verge. "There is no change to our policies right now with regard to TikTok."

If it was an error, it's quite a mistake to make given all the attention the news got, although considering the company did evidently have an email ready to go for this scenario, "right now" may be the key phrase in that statement. Brendan Morrow

5:33 p.m.

Valentina Sampaio says she has overcome "snickers, insults, fearful reactions, and physical violations," to become Sports Illustrated's first transgender swimsuit model.

Sampaio, who writes for SI that she was "born trans in a remote, humble fishing village in northern Brazil," will appear in SI's annual swimsuit edition out July 21. She's been on the cover of Vogue Brazil and had a Victoria's Secret campaign last year, and now helps SI take its latest step in including groundbreaking, diverse models on its pages.

In an essay for SI, Sampaio describes how "Brazil is a beautiful country, but it also hosts the highest number of violent crimes and murders against the trans community in the world." "Being trans usually means facing closed doors to peoples' hearts and minds," Sampaio continues, which often holds trans people back from "growing up in a loving and accepting family, having a fruitful experience at school, or finding dignified work."

"I recognize that I am one of the fortunate ones, and my intention is to honor that as best I can," Sampaio said, thanking SI for "seeing and respecting me as I truly am." Read all of what Sampaio has to say about her big gig at Sports Illustrated. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:55 p.m.

A moratorium on political ads may be coming to Facebook this fall.

Facebook is considering imposing a ban on political ads "in the days leading up to" November's presidential election, Bloomberg reported on Friday. As of now, the idea is "still only being discussed," the report says.

Facebook has long faced criticism for its decision not to fact-check political ads, something CEO Mark Zuckerberg has defended by saying that "people should decide what is credible, not tech companies." Last year, more than 250 Facebook employees signed a letter arguing that this policy "allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy."

Facebook is now facing an ad boycott from companies urging it to crack down on hate speech and misinformation, and an independent audit concluded this week that it "has been far too reluctant to adopt strong rules to limit misinformation and voter suppression."

According to Bloomberg, part of the reason the potential ad ban hasn't been decided upon is that there's still some concern it "could hurt 'get out the vote' campaigns, or limit a candidate's ability to respond widely to breaking news or new information." The New York Times is also confirming the news of the potential ban while cautioning that it's still possible Facebook will decide against it and "continue with its current political advertising policy."

Facebook previously announced it would let users opt out of seeing political ads altogether, with Zuckerberg saying last month, "for those of you who've already made up your minds and just want the election to be over, we hear you."

Brendan Morrow

4:37 p.m.

Back in March, everyone in the U.S. but essential workers scrambled to adapt to remote work to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Well, everyone but President Trump's 2020 campaign headquarters. The Arlington, Virginia, office has remained packed with workers through the past four months, only closing this week for its first deep cleaning in a while because a staffer tested positive for the virus, people familiar with the HQ's operations detail to Politico.

Social distancing doesn't exist inside the Trump HQ, where "dozens of staffers" are "often sitting in close proximity to conduct phone calls and other urgent campaign business," three people tell Politico. Staffers wear masks outside the office "in case they're spotted by reporters," but are free to take them off inside, Politico continues. Except free might not be the right word for it: One person told Politico "You get made fun of if you wear a mask. There's social pressure not to do it.”

All of that became obvious when Vice President Mike Pence tweeted a picture from a visit to the headquarters last month showing a jam-packed, maskless office. The tweet has since been deleted, but it sparked questions into whether Virginia officials would step in and enforce the state's social distancing guidelines and mandatory mask policy. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) ultimately declined to get involved so he didn't "get bogged down in a political fight," an individual familiar with the situation told Politico.

"The campaign takes the health and safety of our staff very seriously," spokesperson Tim Murtaugh told Politico. That includes a "weekly deep cleaning, daily temperature checks," and "widely available masks and PPE, and testing of staff both before events and before returning to the office," Murtaugh said. Read more at Politico. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:57 p.m.

FedEx is threatening to remove its signage from the Washington Redskins' stadium unless the team's name is changed, The Washington Post reports.

The shipping company, which owns the naming rights to the Washington Redskins' stadium under a more than $200 million deal signed in 1999, recently announced it was asking the team to change its controversial name, and the Post is now reporting that FedEx informed the Redskins in a private letter that unless it does so, "it will remove its signage from the stadium after the NFL's 2020 season, six years before the deal's expiration."

This was reportedly communicated in a letter from FedEx's general counsel sent on July 2, the same day the statement saying that FedEx was requesting a name change was released. The company privately described how the Redskins' name, which has long been criticized as racist, "poses the risk of harming FedEx's brand reputation and is inconsistent with its commitment to a more inclusive society," the Post writes.

Following FedEx's initial statement that it was requesting the name be changed, the Redskins announced it would begin a "thorough review." In the days since, Redskins merchandise has been pulled from Amazon, as well as Walmart, Target, and Dick's Sporting Goods. Brendan Morrow

2:39 p.m.

Ghislaine Maxwell is making the same request Jeffrey Epstein did exactly a year ago.

Maxwell, a close friend of Epstein's accused of grooming young girls for his sex trafficking ring, requested through her lawyers Friday that she be allowed to wait out her day in court outside of jail. Maxwell's lawyers offered a $5 million bond secured by six co-signers, as well as property in the U.K. worth $3.5 million, to secure her release, NBC News reports.

Maxwell was arrested at her New Hampshire estate last week on charges of transporting and enticing minors. She initially appeared in court remotely, and was then transferred to a Brooklyn detention center.

COVID-19 is both spreading through jails and putting limitations on who can visit them, leading to Maxwell's request for bond. "COVID-19-related restrictions on attorney communications with pre-trial detainees significantly impair a defendant's ability to prepare her defense," her lawyers said in their proposed bail agreement. Prosecutors meanwhile argued Maxwell is an "extreme" flight risk due to her "three passports, large sums of money, [and] extensive international connections."

Epstein's lawyers tried to request he wait for his trial in his Manhattan mansion a year ago this week, albeit on a $77 million bond package. The judge in the case determined Epstein was a danger to the community and denied that request. Kathryn Krawczyk

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