Things that make you go hmmm
June 12, 2020

You might be forgiven for thinking a chokehold is just a hug for the neck, based on the fuzzy way President Trump discussed the controversial police technique on Friday. "I think the concept of chokehold sounds so innocent, so perfect," the president said on Fox News.

Trump went on to say that a chokehold depends "on the toughness and the strength" and that "you have to be careful." He added eventually that he believed "it would be, I think, a very good thing that, generally speaking, it should be ended."

Banning chokeholds is one of the most popular ideas for police reform, backed by 73 percent of the population. A number of cities and states have already moved to ban chokeholds in the wake of protests following the killing of George Floyd.

Despite his words, Trump seemed regretful to be letting chokeholds go. "Sometimes if you're alone, and you're fighting someone who's tough, and you get somebody in a chokehold … and it's a real bad person, and you know that, and they do exist ... and what're you gonna do, you're gonna get someone in a chokehold and let go?" Trump asked. "And say, 'Oh let's start all over again, I'm not allowed to have you in a chokehold?'" Watch the interview below. Jeva Lange

May 22, 2020

President Trump's aversion to taking his annual physical is starting to get … a little weird. It has now been six months since the president claims to have "started" his routine physical at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, NBC News reports, with Trump saying in early March that he is simply "too busy" to do the second part. But even his process is mysterious, since physicals aren't typically conducted in multiple stages over the course of several months.

There is plenty of reason for the public to feel invested in the president's physical wellbeing right now, too. Earlier this week, Trump said he was taking the prescription drug hydroxycholorquine as an unproven and potentially dangerous prophylactic to ward off the COVID-19 coronavirus. The drug has well-documented risks, including causing dangerous heart arrhythmia even in healthy people. Last November, Trump also made an unscheduled trip to Walter Reed, where the 73-year-old underwent what was later described as an "interim checkup," although one insider told CNN at the time that the visit was "abnormal."

Trump completed his 2019 physical in the month of February and his 2018 physical in January. During his November 2019 two-hour examination at Walter Reed, he began what the White House said were "portions" of his 2020 exam. It has now been six months since that initial check-up took place, and the "more comprehensive" exam assured by his doctor, which would have included the president's labs and exam results, has so far — to public knowledge — not taken place.

“At the appropriate time" Trump has promised he will finish his annual physical. "But I feel very good.” Jeva Lange

September 25, 2019

Part of the scandal surrounding President Trump's July conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky involves Trump's decision to hold nearly $400 million in military aid ahead of their phone call, a story which continues to evolve.

On Monday, The Washington Post reported that officials with the Office of Management and Budget told the Pentagon and State Department that Trump had "concerns" about whether Ukraine really needed the money. The money was finally released in September, with Senate Republicans saying it was held up because the administration wanted to know if Zelensky was pro-Russia.

A senior White House official told the Post it was really blocked because of Trump's concerns regarding "a lot of corruption in Ukraine." After that report was published, Trump said he held the funding because he wanted "other countries to put up money. I think it's unfair we put up the money. Then people called me and said, 'Let it go.'"

NPR on Wednesday obtained a document showing yet another side of the story. In May, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy sent a letter to four congressional committees, letting them know that he "certified that the government of Ukraine has taken substantial actions to make defense institutional reforms for the purposes of decreasing corruption [and] increasing accountability." This letter was sent on behalf of the secretary of defense and in coordination with the secretary of state, with the certification necessary in order to release the military aid. Read the entire letter at NPR. Catherine Garcia

April 11, 2019

In just two years, Fox News host Sean Hannity went from inviting Julian Assange to fill in for him on his radio show to scrubbing all references to the WikiLeaks founder from his Twitter stream.

Assange was arrested Thursday in London, where he's been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in order to avoid extradition to Sweden and then, he feared, the United States. Hannity told Assange in a 2017 interview that he believed "every word he says," because "nothing he has published has ever been false." Over the years, Hannity devoted several positive tweets to Assange and WikiLeaks, but observant Twitter users like Matthias Reynolds discovered on Thursday they are all gone. Hannity does have one related tweet still up: A link to a story on his website about Assange's arrest.

The Washington Post's Aaron Blake argues this could all just be a coincidence, saying Hannity's cleansing of all things pro-Assange and WikiLeaks "appears to have taken place as part of a mass deletion — not in response to Assange's arrest today." Tweets about Assange and WikiLeaks may have gotten the boot, but Hannity did elect to keep about eight million references to Jussie Smollett, Hillary Clinton's emails, and "collusion delusion." Catherine Garcia

October 10, 2018

A Republican operative was working to obtain Hillary Clinton's emails for years, and reportedly consulted with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to do it.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that a veteran Republican activist, Peter Smith, met with Flynn back in 2015 as a part of his long-term effort to get his hands on Clinton's emails. Smith apparently thought that Flynn's connections would help him get in touch with hackers who had access to the emails.

The two initiated a "business relationship" in November 2015, an email from Smith's former associate revealed. Before Flynn joined President Trump's campaign as a top adviser, and long before he resigned and pleaded guilty on charges of lying to the FBI, he was having conversations with a Russian ambassador, which Smith thought would be helpful in his email mission.

Smith, who reportedly secretly raised $100,000 in his quest to purchase Clinton's stolen emails, died in 2017, but the associates' email reviewed by the Journal details that Smith spoke with Flynn "on the day he left for his trip to Moscow." Smith apparently told people in 2016 that he was using Flynn's connections in his effort to chase down the emails that hackers stole from Clinton.

His hunt for the trove of emails was "all-consuming," Smith's acquaintances say, and he was convinced that they would reveal incriminating information. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office is reportedly interested in Smith's actions and relationship with Flynn as a part of its probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Summer Meza

August 22, 2018

A cloud of corruption is settling around President Trump's former confidantes, and Democrats are stoked. So stoked, they seem to have forgotten a potential problem of their own.

Amid the storm of Paul Manafort's guilty verdicts and Michael Cohen's guilty pleas, Quinnipiac University released a poll Wednesday surveying New Jersey voters. The poll shows incumbent Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democratic senator who previously escaped corruption charges, inching closer to losing his seat in November's midterms.

Quinnipiac's poll reveals that 43 percent of registered voters would vote for Menendez today — a relatively narrow 6-point lead over his Republican competitor Bob Hugin, given Menendez's traditionally safely blue constituency. Just five months ago, a Quinnipiac poll gave Menendez a 17-point lead over Hugin.

Meanwhile, Democrats have been trying to tie Trump-supporting candidates to corruption associated with the president's administration. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) conveniently debuted an anti-corruption bill Tuesday, just before Manafort and Cohen's courtroom appearances. But their push seems to be having unintended consequences on Menendez, who was indicted in 2015 on federal corruption charges, accused of using his Senate seat to benefit a friend in exchange for private jet rides and campaign donations.

Menendez's charges were dismissed earlier this year after a mistrial, but he still got "severely admonished" by the Senate Ethics Committee in an April letter. It's since been re-election season as usual for Menendez — though he probably didn't expect to fight so hard in a state that hasn't elected a Republican senator since 1954.

For Wednesday's poll, Quinnipiac surveyed 908 registered New Jersey voters over the phone from Aug. 15-20. The poll has a 4.6-point margin of error. Read more results here. Kathryn Krawczyk

August 2, 2018

President Trump's oldest son evinced quite the opinion Thursday while trying to promote a film by conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza.

Donald Trump Jr. likened the Democratic National Committee's platform to that of the 1930s-era Nazi party, reports The Washington Post. At a screening, Trump Jr. praised D'Souza's film for correcting the record, claiming that liberal narratives have filled academia with false information.

"When you look at the movie, you'll see that there is a very distinct and clear difference between what actually happened and what is being sold to our youth today," Trump Jr. told One America News Network.

"I've been hearing the left talking about these things — fascism, Nazism on the right — and when you look at the actual history and how these things evolved, and you actually look at that platform versus the platform of the modern left, you say, 'Wait a minute, those two are very heavily aligned,'" he continued. "You see the Nazi platform from the early 1930s … and you look at it compared to the DNC platform of today, you're saying, 'Man, those things are awfully similar' to a point where it's actually scary."

Trump Jr. claimed that the reality of the situation is "the exact opposite of what you've been told." As Politico notes, the president's son did not comment on members of the alt-right who self-identify as Nazis and white supremacists. Read more at The Washington Post. Summer Meza

July 19, 2018

Even without giving definitive answers, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is drawing plenty of scrutiny.

While attending the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday, Nielsen was forced to immediately backtrack on her claim that Russia didn't favor President Trump when interfering in the 2016 election. On other matters, however, she opted to double down rather than 'fess up.

Vice reports that Nielsen was asked about Trump's comments about the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, where white nationalist demonstrators were confronted by counterprotesters. When violence broke out, a counterprotester was killed, and multiple people have since been charged with malicious wounding of a black man who was protesting the rally.

Trump was widely criticized for saying that there were "very fine people on both sides" of the incident, a comment that Nielsen was asked about Thursday. She reportedly said that "it's not that one side was right and one side was wrong," and added that "anybody that is advocating violence, we need to work to mitigate."

Nielsen additionally dodged a question about the Trump administration's focus on countering white supremacist violence overall. GQ correspondent Julia Ioffe reports that Nielsen instead addressed "Islamic radicalism," again noting that she takes all violence seriously. Summer Meza

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