tough questions
December 12, 2018

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was grilled Wednesday morning about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — on Fox & Friends, of all places.

Pompeo repeatedly dodged questions about the murder of the Washington Post columnist by Saudi officials, which the CIA has reportedly concluded was ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Trump administration, however, has insisted there is no "direct evidence" tying bin Salman to the murder. Pompeo repeated that assertion on Wednesday morning while noting that Saudi Arabia is an "important ally," per Mediaite.

But host Brian Kilmeade wasn't satisfied with that explanation, telling Pompeo that the Saudis are the ones who have damaged the relationship with the U.S. and that even people like Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are convinced bin Salman was involved. "We know the prince knows, right?" Kilmeade asked. "You know that he knows." Pompeo didn't really answer, so Kilmeade followed up with, "When you looked him in the eye and he denied it, did you believe him?" Pompeo again wouldn't answer, instead saying, "The kingdom of Saudi Arabia decides who's running the country."

Host Ainsley Earhardt challenged Pompeo again by bringing up the CIA's conclusion, to which he responded that some of that reporting is inaccurate. But when the hosts followed up to ask if he means the reporting about the CIA's conclusion is inaccurate, he wouldn't directly answer that, either. "They're still working on it," he said. Watch Fox & Friends' confrontation with Pompeo below. Brendan Morrow

May 9, 2018

California Sen. Kamala Harris (D) formerly served as the state's attorney general, and her prosecutorial experience showed Wednesday when she questioned Gina Haspel at her confirmation hearing to become CIA director. Haspel, President Trump's pick to lead the intelligence agency, has faced opposition from Democrats due to her work in 2002 at a "black site" in Thailand where terrorism suspects were waterboarded, as well as a 2005 cable where she wrote that videos showing waterboarding should be destroyed.

Harris seized on the CIA's previous interrogation tactics in her grilling of Haspel, pressing the nominee for a yes-or-no answer on the techniques' morality. "One question I've not heard you answer is, do you believe the previous interrogation techniques were immoral?" Harris asked. Haspel began with a response about the tactics' legality and a reference to the CIA chain of command before Harris cut in: "I'm not asking do you believe they were legal, I'm asking do you believe they were immoral."

Haspel said she believed that the CIA "did extraordinary work" to keep the U.S. safe, which did not satisfy Harris. Watch the exchange — including Harris' exasperated facial expressions at 0:49 — below. Kimberly Alters

January 16, 2018

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and faced some tough questions about President Trump's recent disparaging remarks about Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations, which he reportedly called "shithole countries."

In his round of questioning, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Nielsen what the president meant when he expressed a desire for the U.S. to take in more Norwegian immigrants. Nielsen replied that Trump was discussing immigration "from a merit-based perspective" and that he wanted immigrants "with skills who can assimilate and contribute to the United States, moving away from country quotas and to an individual merit system."

A little later, Leahy asked Nielsen, "Norway is a predominantly white country, isn't it?" After stuttering, she replied, "I actually do not know that sir, but I imagine that is the case."

Nielsen's interrogation, however, was far from over. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) — who was in the room with Nielsen when Trump reportedly made the comments during a meeting on immigration — wasted little time in asking, "How did [Trump] characterize those countries in Africa?" Nielsen claimed to not remember exactly what the president said because of "cross conversations" and "rough talk by a lot of people in the room."

Durbin pressed on: "Do you remember the president saying expressly, 'I want more Europeans, why can't we have more immigrants from Norway?'" Nielsen said that she remembered Trump asking about "the concept of 'underrepresented countries'" but her memory failed her in regards to the president's alleged profanity. Durbin did get Nielsen to admit that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) used "tough language" as he quoted the president, but Nielsen did not explicitly confirm the use of the word "shithole." She would only say, "I remember specific cuss words being used by a variety of members." Kelly O'Meara Morales

January 3, 2018

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders valiantly tried to begin her press briefing Wednesday by talking about the budget debate, as a possible government shutdown looms over Congress. But the White House press corps immediately began questioning her about some ... other matters.

Of particular interest was President Trump's fiery Tuesday night tweet, where he claimed to possess a "nuclear button" that was "bigger and more powerful" than the one owned by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. When a reporter asked if Trump's tweet was a sign of mental instability, Sanders insisted that it is Kim's "mental fitness" that is a more pressing matter:

Another reporter quickly pushed back on Sanders, asking then whether goading someone who is mentally unstable is really a good idea. "I don't think it's taunting to stand up for the people of this country," Sanders replied:

Sanders eventually ended Wednesday's briefing with a perhaps unintentionally ironic quip, which you can watch below. Kelly O'Meara Morales

September 20, 2016

To say Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) put Wells Fargo's CEO through the ringer today would be a massive understatement.

In the latter half of John Stumpf's two-hour testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, Warren had her turn at the podium. She quickly cut to the heart of what seemed to unite both parties on the committee in frustration: the question of just what responsibility Stumpf has as CEO for the massive fraud Wells Fargo employees recent perpetrated.

Warren accused Stumpf of "gutless leadership," pushing the bank's now-infamous cross-selling habit to push up his own company stock, throwing in transcripts of 12 of Stumpf's quarterly earnings calls to investors. "You squeezed your employees to the breaking point so they would cheat customers and you could drive up your stock," Warren declared.

"You should resign. You should give back [your pay]," she continued. "And you should be criminally investigated."

Watch the video below. Jeff Spross

December 9, 2015

As the "son of two mathematicians and computer programmers," Ted Cruz claims to be all for policy following science; he just doesn't think the data is pointing toward climate change.

In an interview with NPR hosts Steven Inskeep and David Greene published Wednesday, the Texas senator and Republican presidential candidate called climate change the "perfect pseudoscientific theory for a big government politician who wants more power." Then he explained why: "The scientific evidence doesn't support global warming," Cruz told Inskeep. "For the last 18 years, the satellite data — we have satellites that monitor the atmosphere. The satellites that actually measure the temperature showed no significant warming whatsoever."

The trouble is, Cruz is obviously cherry-picking evidence here, as The Washington Post pointed out in a critique of this popular line of attack:

First, he's selectively using one type of data over others. Second, he's starting his analysis with a single warm temperature year — 1998 — rather looking at the aggregate temperatures of multiple years (or decades). [The Washington Post]

The fact that NASA data shows this century holds nine out of 10 of the warmest years ever, for instance, seems not to have made the deft debater's cut.

You can read Cruz's full interview over at NPR. Becca Stanek

November 16, 2015

Speaking in Antalya, Turkey at the G-20 summit on Monday, President Obama carefully called for continued commitment to Syrian refugees and asked for the Muslim community to redouble their pushback against extremism. But when it was CNN Senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta's turn to ask a question, he perhaps let his frustration get the best of him.

"A lot of Americans have this frustration that they see the United States has the greatest military in the world, it has the backing of nearly every other country in the world when it comes to taking on ISIS. I guess the question is, and if you'll forgive the language, but why can't we take out these bastards?" he asked.

Obama clearly wasn't thrilled. "Well Jim, I just spent the last three questions answering that very question, so I don't know what more you want me to add."

After a good scold, the president continued: "We are going to continue to pursue the strategy that has the best chance of working, even though it does not offer the satisfaction I guess of a neat headline [...] It's important we get the strategy right."

Acosta said later that he had wanted to "ask something that's on all our minds. Plain and simple." Hopefully he got his answer. Jeva Lange

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