That was fast
September 16, 2020

The Department of Health and Human Services' communications chief will be taking a two-month leave of absence after accusing government scientists of "sedition" in a bizarre Facebook rant.

HHS on Wednesday announced that Michael Caputo, the department's assistant secretary for public affairs, is taking a leave of absence for 60 days to "focus on his health and the well-being of his family." This comes after Caputo on Sunday peddled false conspiracy theories on Facebook Live, baselessly claiming government scientists are guilty of "sedition" and that a "resistance unit" of scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are plotting "how they're going to attack Donald Trump next," per The New York Times. He also baselessly claimed that left-wing "hit squads" are "being trained all over this country" to rise up against President Trump and that they're "going to have to kill me."

Caputo also predicted in his rant that Trump will win the 2020 election but that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden won't concede, writing that "when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin." He reportedly apologized to his staff on Tuesday; CNN reports that Caputo "portrayed himself as a victim in his apology, but apologized for putting HHS Secretary Alex Azar in a bad light."

Additionally, HHS announced on Wednesday that a Caputo aide, Paul Alexander, will leave the department. Alexander, The Washington Post reports, had sought to "exert control over the messages coming from scientists and top health officials" in an attempt to "make them conform to the president's assertions that the virus is under control." Brendan Morrow

May 22, 2020

Former Vice President Joe Biden has quickly recognized his big Friday morning mistake.

While closing out an interview with Charlamagne tha God on The Breakfast Club, Biden declared that "you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or [President] Trump, you ain't black." A whole lot of people unexpectedly found Biden's comment racist and offensive, and by Friday afternoon, Biden had acknowledged he "shouldn't have been such a wise guy."

"Perhaps I was much too cavalier," Biden said in a Friday afternoon call with black business leaders. "I've never, never, ever taken the African American community for granted," he continued, adding that "no one should have to vote for any party based on their race, their religion, their background."

Charlamagne grilled Biden on his morning show, telling the presumptive Democratic nominee that "black people saved your political life in the primaries this year, and they have things they want from you, and one of them is a black woman running mate." Biden assured Charlamagne that several black women were under his consideration before someone off screen told Biden his time was up. Charlamagne told Biden that he had more questions, though, and Biden apparently tried to answer them with his big, misguided swoop. Kathryn Krawczyk

March 23, 2020

The book hasn't been closed on Woody Allen's memoir controversy after all.

Allen's book, Apropos of Nothing, has been released by a new publisher, The Associated Press reported on Monday.

Hachette Book Group's Grand Central Publishing announced earlier this month it would release Allen's book, a decision that sparked controversy in light of the sexual assault allegation the filmmaker has long faced from his daughter, Dylan Farrow. Ronan and Dylan Farrow spoke out against Hachette, and employees of the publisher protested, leading Hachette to drop plans to release the book.

But it evidently didn't take long for Allen to get a new home for it, as AP reports Arcade Publishing, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, released Apropos of Nothing on Monday. Arcade editor Jeannette Seaver in a statement said, "In this strange time, when truth is too often dismissed as 'fake news,' we as publishers prefer to give voice to a respected artist, rather than bow to those determined to silence him."

Allen reportedly acknowledges the publishing drama in a postscript, writing that Hachette agreed to publish his book despite his reputation as a "toxic pariah and menace to society," but "when actual flak did arrive they thoughtfully reassessed their position" and "dumped the book like it was a hunk of Xenon 135." He also reportedly denies Dylan Farrow's allegation in the book, claiming it's a "total fabrication."

Before Hachette dropped the book, Ronan Farrow called out the publisher for failing to contact his sister Dylan to "respond to any denial or mischaracterization of the abuse she suffered at the hands of Woody Allen, a credible allegation maintained for almost three decades." Dylan Farrow in a statement also said this demonstrated "an egregious abdication of Hachette's most basic responsibility." Brendan Morrow

October 29, 2019

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army officer assigned to the National Security Council, is scheduled to be deposed by House impeachment investigators on Tuesday, and a draft opening statement obtained by news organizations looks pretty damaging for President Trump.

Vindman, a top Ukraine expert on the NSC, will be the first House witness who listened to Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and he writes in his opening statement that he was so concerned about Trump's ask that Zelensky open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, he reported it to the NSC's top lawyer.

Vindman's opening statement corroborates testimony from William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and former NSC official Fiona Hill that Trump and outside advisers were pressuring Zelensky to help Trump politically in exchange for critical U.S. support.

Vindman's family emigrated to the U.S. from the former Soviet Union when he was 3, and he has served multiple tours of duty as an infantry officer, taking shrapnel in Iraq and earning a Purple Heart. Not long after The New York Times first teased Vindman's testimony, Fox News host Laura Ingraham and former U.S. Deputy Attorney General John Yoo were questioning Vindman's loyalty. This did not escape notice at MSNBC, where Brian Williams played a clip from Ingraham's show in which Yoo — himself an immigrant — suggests Vindman might be a spy.

"What are they getting at?" Williams asked Jeremy Bash, a top Pentagon and CIA official under former President Barack Obama. "I think they're alleging that a U.S. Army colonel is a traitor," Bash said.

The Washington Post's Robert Costa added that "as a reporter, I wonder is this really the line the Republicans are going to take, conservative critics of this impeachment inquiry, that someone who's an immigrant and has served this country is now a questionable person, without any kind of evidence to make this case?" Peter Weber

July 25, 2019

The Turning Point USA aide responsible for a parody presidential seal featuring a Russia symbol and golf clubs being projected behind President Trump has already been fired.

After reports emerged that Trump appeared at the conservative group's event on Tuesday and stood in front of a parody presidential seal meant to look like the Russian coat of arms and with golf clubs added, Turning Point USA told CNN on Thursday an aide has been fired.

A source with the group also told CNN, though, that they think it was not intentional but that the person simply did a Google search for the real presidential seal and "with the pressure of the event, didn't notice that it is a doctored seal." The source also apologized and said "we're sorry for the mix-up and meant no disrespect to the White House or the president or the advance team."

The group also confirmed to The Washington Post, which previously reported on the fake seal appearing behind Trump, that the aide has been fired. "I don't think it was malicious intent, but nevertheless," the spokesperson said.

The White House had previously directed questions about the incident to Turning Point USA, and a White House official told CNN "we never saw the seal in question before it appeared in the video." Still, a former White House ethics lawyer, Richard Painter, argued to the Post that Trump's team still shares some blame, as "to let someone project something on the screen that isn't controlled by the White House is pretty stupid." Brendan Morrow

April 25, 2019

Former Vice President Joe Biden already racked up two Senate endorsements within an hour of entering the 2020 race.

Biden's long-awaited announcement that he is running for president in 2020 was quickly followed by an endorsement by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), whose Senate seat was formerly held by Biden. Coons in a statement says that Biden "doesn't just talk about making our country more just, he delivers results."

After Coons' endorsement came one from Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who said that Biden "has delivered results for the middle class, kept our country safe and strengthened our standing in the world."

Biden is the only 2020 Democratic candidate who has been endorsed by more than one U.S. Senator, according to a tally by FiveThirtyEight. Previously, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) each received an endorsement from one of their Senate colleagues.

More Senate endorsements look to be on the way for Biden, with Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Thomas Carper (D-Del.) having signaled they will back him. Politico previously reported that Biden was "planning to solidify his front-runner status with a wave of high-profile organizing, fundraising and endorsement news when he enters the race."

One endorsement Biden didn't receive on Thursday, however, was that of former President Barack Obama. A statement from Obama's spokesperson praises Biden's "knowledge, insight, and judmgent" but stops short of endorsing him. CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports Obama has no immediate plans to endorse any candidate, as he wants them to "make their cases directly to the voters." Brendan Morrow

November 30, 2018

Michelle Obama can now add "best-selling author" to her very long resume.

Obama's political memoir Becoming debuted just over two weeks ago. But it's already sold 3.4 million copies, surpassing every other hardcover released this year to become 2018's bestseller, Axios reports.

In Becoming, Obama recounts everything from "her childhood on the South Side of Chicago" to her time in the White House, per the book's description. Those subjects are common in White House memoirs, but Becoming is sure selling better than all the rest. "Former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's memoir Living History needed a month to sell 1 million copies," The Associated Press notes, while Obama more than tripled that in half the time.

Becoming is also making waves around the world, becoming the bestselling adult nonfiction book in Germany, Spain, Greece, Finland, and other countries, per Axios. Obama will soon cater to those international fans by bringing her book tour to London, Paris, and Berlin next week. She's already traveled across the U.S. promoting her memoir, bringing pals like Oprah Winfrey, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Reese Witherspoon along as special guests — and perhaps picking up a few book-selling tips along the way. Kathryn Krawczyk

November 7, 2018

President Trump didn't even wait until 24 hours after midterm election polls closed to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Trump announced on Twitter Wednesday afternoon that Sessions is out as attorney general and Sessions' chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, will take over until a permanent replacement is named. In his letter of resignation, Sessions makes clear that he was forced out. "At your request, I am submitting my resignation," he wrote. Trump on Twitter thanked Sessions for his service.

It was widely expected that Trump would fire Sessions or ask him to leave after the midterms, as Trump has made it clear that he was unhappy with Sessions ever since he recused himself from the probe into Russian election meddling. Trump publicly berated Sessions for this over and over, saying in September that "I don't have an attorney general."

The Washington Post reported earlier this week that a number of administration departures would follow after the midterms, potentially including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Whitaker, the new acting attorney general, wrote in an op-ed last year that Mueller's probe has "gone too far." Brendan Morrow

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