April 2, 2018

The Kremlin is reporting that President Trump has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit the White House, a move that would be enormously controversial as many bipartisan critics have argued that the U.S. leader has done little to properly condemn Moscow's election meddling and its apparent attacks on overseas nationals. Andrew Beatty, a reporter for AFP, tweeted that "a senior U.S. official does not deny Trump floated the idea of a White House summit, but no planning has begun as yet."

Putin last visited the United States in 2015, when he stopped by New York City for the United Nations General Assembly and held a meeting with former President Barack Obama. Putin rejected an invitation to meet Obama at the White House in 2012.

Trump has made a number of moves to thaw relations between the U.S. and Russia, telling Politico in 2017 that he planned to extend an invitation to Washington to Putin. "I don't think this is the right time," Trump said last July, "but the answer is yes, I would. Look, it's very easy for me to say, 'Absolutely, I won't.' That's the easy thing for me to do, but that's the stupid thing to do."

On Monday, Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters: "When our presidents spoke on the phone, Trump suggested having the meeting in Washington at the White House. This is quite an interesting, positive idea." Trump spoke to Putin last month to congratulate him on his re-election. Jeva Lange

March 27, 2018

Walmart stores will be removing Cosmopolitan magazines from the check-out lines of all 5,000 stores across the country, USA Today reports, with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) claiming the move is tied to the ongoing #MeToo movement. "You can go through and buy your groceries with your family knowing you don't have to be exposed to this graphic and often degrading and offensive material," said Haley Halverson, NCOSE's vice president of advocacy and outreach, during a Facebook live session.

You can still buy Cosmopolitan at Walmart stores, but they will be moved "in isolation" to the magazine racks, Halverson confirmed.

"This is one less drop of hyper-sexualized media that is going to be bombarding people in their everyday lives, which does make a difference, especially in this #MeToo culture that we're living in, where we really want a culture that will respect women and ensure their dignity is understood," Halverson went on.

Not everyone agreed with the move. "Neither #Walmart nor the #NationalCenteronSexualExploitation appears to know what the #MeToo movement IS, nor understand the difference between sexuality & exploitation," tweeted "cultural sexologist" Carol Queen. Read Lauren Hansen's argument for the sneakily progressive feminism of Cosmopolitan here at The Week. Jeva Lange

October 9, 2017

Although President Trump's 32-year-old adviser and speechwriter Stephen Miller has mostly stayed out of the spotlight in the tumultuous White House, he has still managed to craft something of a reputation for himself as an uncompromising conservative firebrand. That reputation dates back to high school, The New York Times learned, where Miller was known by his classmates in liberal-leaning Santa Monica for railing against the janitors and allegedly performing a "patriotic semi-striptease" (unfortunately, a literal one) for the newspaper editor.

Miller also reportedly took a rather unique route to proving, without any apparent reason, that men are physically superior to women:

[Miller] jumped, uninvited, into the final stretch of a girls' track meet, apparently intent on proving his athletic supremacy over the opposite sex. (The White House, reaching for exculpatory context, noted that this was a girls' team from another school, not his own.) [The New York Times]

Notably, the White House did not deny high school Miller jumped into the race. Read the full account at The New York Times. Jeva Lange

August 10, 2017

If Stephen Colbert finds himself inexplicably short of questions for short-tenured White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci next week, he can always ask him about this tweet he sent out on Wednesday night, a salvo aimed at The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza.

Lizza fielded a late-night phone call from Scaramucci during his 10-day White House stint, recorded it, and printed some colorful and often NSFW highlights in The New Yorker. Scaramucci said on Twitter that Lizza did not ask permission to record the call — that would be legal in both New York and Washington, D.C., which both have one-party consent laws, and the conversation wasn't off-the-record. The phone call plausibly contributed mightily to Scaramucci's firing.

Linda Tripp was a central figure in the Bill Clinton Whitewater scandal, for those of you with mercifully hazy memories of the late 1990s. Her secretly recorded calls with Monica Lewinsky revealed her sexual relationship with the president, leading to Clinton's impeachment trial. The Mooch's analogy has a few problems, as Jonathan Chait points out.

Then there's this question: If Lizza is Tripp, who does that make Scaramucci?

And presumably, President Trump is Clinton in this analogy. Which, given the nature of the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship and Scaramucci's frequently professed "love" for Trump, is a little awkward. Also, considering how Clinton's special-prosecutor investigation ended, the Mooch maybe should have thought this one through a bit more before hitting "Tweet." Peter Weber

May 18, 2017

Last week, China debuted its Silk Road Economic Belt (or "belt and road initiative"), a large-scale infrastructure project intended to launch "a new era of globalization" by promoting trade between Asia and other regions. Named for the historic Silk Road, the project is also designed to cast China as the new leading defender of free trade, stepping into a geopolitical role President Trump's protectionist rhetoric threatens to leave vacant.

To promote this new Silk Road — and take a swipe at the United States — China's state-run media outlet People's Daily has released a series of cutesy videos preaching international trade and friendship. Belt and road participants will be able to "talk to the world through peace and love," "start a business and watch it grow," and "take my hand and have no regrets," claymation figures explain in a chipper song entitled "One rap song to tell you what exactly is the Belt and Road."

Another video, starring a man who has decided this international trade initiative is the perfect topic for his preschooler's bedtime stories, pointedly notes that "any country can join anywhere," including the non-member U.S.

Critics say China's new pro-trade rhetoric doesn't mesh with its ongoing trade restrictions. "The only reason China has a leg to stand on in this argument is the campaign rhetoric and ongoing statements of President Trump and his advisers," said Scott Kennedy of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in an interview with The Washington Post.

Watch the claymation video below, and check out two other clips via the Post. Bonnie Kristian

March 20, 2017

President Trump is a hand-shaker — an aggressive one, at times — so it was kind of strange that at an Oval Office photo session with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, he did not shake her hand, despite her asking him if he wanted to. Despite this apparent snub and a later, awkward joke about wiretapping by former President Barack Obama, Trump wants you to know that he had a "GREAT meeting" with Merkel, regardless of what the "FAKE NEWS" and your own eyes might have surmised to the contrary.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer offered an explanation for the strange, apparently icy photo session, where Trump avoided all eye contact with Merkel as well as not shaking her hand. "I do not believe he heard the question," Spicer told Germany's Der Spiegel. If you sit through the first 50 seconds of the photo spray, you can hear what Trump apparently did not — reporters yelling out "Handshake?" and Merkel leaning over and asking if he wants to shake hands:

Now, Trump did shake Merkel's hand at least twice during their visit on Friday.

So if it was meant as a snub or show of pique, it was temporary on Trump's part. And another way to look at this is that Merkel was actually lucky. After Trump's notoriously long handshake with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in February, John Oliver's Last Week Tonight put together this (briefly NSFW) compilation of Trump shaking hands in uncomfortable-to-watch ways. Peter Weber

November 17, 2016

A Washington state senator plans to propose a bill banning "illegal protests," although many of his critics say his definition of "illegal protests" sounds suspiciously like "protests" in general. Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen announced Wednesday that he wanted to create the crime of "economic terrorism" and "allow the felony prosecution of people involved in protests that block transportation and commerce, damage property, threaten jobs, and put public safety at risk," KOMO News reports.

"Let's keep in mind that civil rights protesters who sat down at lunch counters could be seen as 'disrupting business' and 'obstructing economic activity,' and their courageous actions were opposed by segregationists as trying to 'coerce' business and government," American Civil Liberties Union of Washington spokesman Doug Honig told The Associated Press.

Ericksen argued that he respected the right to protest "but when it endangers people's lives and property, it goes too far. Fear, intimidation, and vandalism are not a legitimate form of political expression." Ericksen added that his bill would also "[go] after the people who fund" and organize protests.

While some critics admit they would need to see the bill first before writing it off, the language being used already appalls others. "We're already concerned that some of its loose terms appear to be targeting civil disobedience as 'terrorism.' That's the kind of excessive approach to peaceful protest that our country and state do not need," Honig said.

"To call [protesting] 'economic terrorism' is just another way to silence it and another way to gain popular support," said Seattle resident Molly Boord. Jeva Lange

November 3, 2016

FBI Director James Comey's decision to send a letter to Congress about potentially new emails related to the Hillary Clinton email server investigation has been met with backlash by Republicans and Democrats alike. Concerns grew so rampant that White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest had to clarify that "the president doesn't believe that Director Comey is intentionally trying to influence the outcome of an election. The president doesn't believe that he's secretly strategizing to benefit one candidate or one political party."

In the midst of all of this, though, the FBI has begun an internal investigation into its own Twitter account, ThinkProgress has learned. The issue comes down to @FBIRecordsVault, "the official FBI Records Management Division Twitter." The account hadn't tweeted anything for over a year until Oct. 30 at 4 a.m., when it linked to a bunch of documents, including one about Donald Trump's father, labeling him a "philanthropist." Two days later, the Records Vault account "tweeted documents regarding President Clinton's controversial pardon of Marc Rich," ThinkProgress writes.

The account has not been active since that tweet.

ThinkProgress has learned that the FBI's Inspection Division will undertake an investigation of the account.

Candice Will, Assistant Director for the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility, said she was referring the matter to the FBI's Inspection Division for an "investigation." Upon completion of the investigation, the Office of Professional Responsibility will be referred back to the Office of Professional Responsibility for "adjudication."

Federal law and FBI policy prohibit employees from using the power of the department to attempt to influence elections. [ThinkProgress]

The FBI responded to the controversy with a statement: "Per the standard procedure for FOIA, these materials became available for release and were posted automatically and electronically to the FBI's public reading room in accordance with the law and established procedures."

The department has reportedly been plagued with infighting about how to handle the renewed Clinton email scandal. Jeva Lange

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