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July 7, 2019

The cat's out of the bag. It turns out that the United Kingdom's ambassador to the United States, Kim Darroch, doesn't think too highly of the Trump administration.

Leaked diplomatic cables sent from Darroch back to London describe President Trump as "inept," "insecure," and "incompetent," a U.K. government official confirmed to CNN on Saturday. The memos reportedly span from 2017 to the present day.

Darroch reportedly also said that he thinks the Trump administration could end "end in disgrace" and that the reported infighting and chaos within the White House is mostly true.

But the British Foreign Office is not exactly trying to cover up the ambassador's words or dispute the memos' existence. "The British public would expect our ambassadors to provide ministers with an honest, unvarnished assessment of the politics in their country," a British Foreign Office spokeswoman said. "Their views are not necessarily the views of ministers or indeed the government. We pay them to be candid." The spokeswoman did call the leak "mischievous" behavior, but said that it will not damage relations between London and Washington, The Guardian reports. Tim O'Donnell

January 8, 2019

Paul Manafort's lawyers Tuesday inadvertently revealed that he may have discussed a "Ukrainian peace plan" with a political operative with suspected ties to Russian intelligence.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it should: A Ukrainian peace plan has been of interest ever since The New York Times reported in 2017 that Michael Flynn, when he was national security adviser, received a Ukrainian peace plan proposal from Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. That proposal was put together by Andrii Artemenko, a Ukrainian lawmaker who reportedly "received encouragement" from aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The proposal would involve Russia pulling forces from eastern Ukraine and allow Ukrainian voters to decide whether Crimea should be leased to Russia 50 or 100 years, along with lifting sanctions on Russia. It heavily favors Russia's interests, The Atlantic notes, and came under scrutiny as the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia began to be investigated. Artemenko in May 2018 revealed that he had been questioned by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators, Politico reports.

Tuesday's filing appears to reveal for the first time that Manafort was also involved in discussions of a Ukrainian peace plan, talking about it with Konstantin Kilimnik. It's wasn't completely clear if they discussed the same one that ended up in Flynn's hands, though, and Felix Sater, who was involved in getting the Artemenko plan to the White House, claims the two plans are different, McClatchy's Ben Wieder reports. But while it's unclear what the one Manafort and Kilimnik discussed might have entailed, the Times notes that Manafort and Kilimnik have a history of pushing Russia's interests in Ukraine.

According to the filing, Manafort "conceded" that he discussed or may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan with Kilimnik "on more than one occasion." His lawyers insist he did not recall this when initially speaking to investigators because "issues and communications related to Ukrainian political events simply were not at the forefront of Mr. Manafort's mind." Brendan Morrow

December 27, 2018

A controversial Instagram update that radically altered the app's user experience is already being rolled back, with the company's head admitting it was an accident.

Instagram users were surprised on Thursday to find they had to swipe horizontally to view photos on the app rather than scroll vertically, a change few felt was for the better. But only hours after the change was first unveiled, users began to report that the app had already gone back to normal.

That's because, as Instagram head Adam Mosseri soon explained on Twitter, it was just meant to be a "very small test," but it "went broad by accident." "Sorry about that," he added in another tweet. When Mosseri was asked if the feature is still coming or if it's just being tested, he replied, "Just a test."

It remains to be seen whether Instagram will ever actually roll out the horizontal feed for good, but seeing as the negative reactions were so widespread Thursday that phrases like "Wtf Instagram" began to trend on Twitter, they'd probably be wise to reconsider. Brendan Morrow

July 30, 2018

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was probably being only a little sarcastic Monday night when he thanked libertarian-leaning conservative donors and activists Charles and David Koch for supporting his most famous proposal. "Let me thank the Koch brothers, of all people, for sponsoring a study that shows that Medicare for All would save the American people $2 trillion over a 10-year period," Sanders said, pointing to a new study published by Charles Blahous at the Koch-subsidized Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

In the white paper, Blahous estimates that Sanders' universal, single-payer health-care proposal would raise federal spending on health care by about $32.6 trillion from 2022 to 2031, but other economists noted that, according to the same report, federal health-care spending overall would drop by a little more than $2 trillion in that same period. There are a lot of caveats and untested assumptions in the numbers, but Sanders took the unintentional endorsement and ran with it.

Not that Sanders was 100 percent pleased with the Koch brothers. "The insurance companies, the drug companies, Wall Street, and the Koch brothers are devoting a lot of money to lobbying, campaign contributions, and television ads to defeat this proposal," he said. "But they are on the wrong side of history." Somebody should really write a white paper on that argument. Peter Weber

July 4, 2018

For nearly three decades, a Houston grandmother has been accidentally repping Panama every Fourth of July.

Dale Cheesman and his sister's fiancé were looking over the World Cup schedule on Monday when they saw the Panamanian flag and realized something: It looked exactly like a red, white, and blue shirt Cheesman's 88-year-old grandmother, Shirley, wears on the Fourth of July, and it dawned on them that her patriotic top would be best suited for Panama's Independence Day. "We died laughing," Cheesman told BuzzFeed News. "We showed the family and they did as well."

Cheesman tweeted about the fashion faux pas, and his grandmother's "over 25 years of treason." Before you start calling her Benedict Shirley, know that she finds the whole thing "hilarious," her grandson said, and is going to keep wearing the shirt "because it's a tradition and now it's just a funnier tradition." Catherine Garcia

May 3, 2018

Update 5:24 p.m. ET: NBC News reporter Julia Ainsley clarified that Michael Cohen's phone calls were being monitored but not listened to. NBC News had originally reported that Cohen's phone lines had been wiretapped — which would allow federal investigators to hear the content of his calls — but Ainsley said that Cohen's phones were merely being subject to a pen register, which would allow agents to determine with whom Cohen was communicating but not what was being said. Our original story appears below.

President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was reportedly wiretapped by federal investigators in the weeks leading up to the raids on his home and office in early April, two people familiar with the legal proceedings told NBC News. After the raids, Trump's legal team reportedly advised the president against contacting Cohen on the suspicion that the lawyer's phone conversations were being recorded by prosecutors.

Trump, who doesn't exactly have a reputation for following his lawyers' advice, apparently placed a call to Cohen in the days after the raid anyway. Rudy Giuliani, who has since joined Trump's legal team, reportedly had to specifically instruct Trump not to call Cohen again after he learned about the president's call, people familiar with the exchange told NBC.

Cohen is expected to be under federal investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance violations. On Thursday, Trump confirmed that Cohen had paid $130,000 to adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about her allegations of an affair with Trump, although the president stressed that the payment was from his personal funds, rather than from the campaign's coffers.

In order to have obtained a wiretap on Cohen, investigators would have had to have convincingly demonstrated that there is a possibility of an ongoing crime. "The affidavits are typically highly detailed and carefully vetted by experienced lawyers," said former U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg. "In all cases the wiretap must be approved by a federal judge."

At least one phone call between a line linked to Cohen and the White House was reportedly intercepted. Read more about the phone tap at NBC News. Jeva Lange

April 12, 2018

Mike Pompeo, the CIA director tapped by President Trump to be the next secretary of state, revealed Thursday that scores of Russians were recently killed by U.S. forces in Syria.

Pompeo made the remark while appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a confirmation hearing, as he seeks to succeed Rex Tillerson as head of the State Department. The statement, reported by CNN's Jim Sciutto, revealed something that no U.S. officials have publicly confirmed before: that a U.S.-led coalition killed Russian fighters in a February battle in eastern Syria. The U.S. and Russia are involved in a proxy war in Syria, where government forces aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are battling various rebel groups, but neither country wants to escalate the fighting into a direct conflict between Moscow and Washington.

Russia confirmed in February that "several dozen" Russians were killed or wounded in Syria. At least some of those killed were reportedly mercenaries, paid soldiers fighting for the Kremlin-backed Syrian government.

The U.S. kept fairly quiet about the clash, though one anonymous official told Bloomberg that U.S. forces were responsible for the Russian deaths. Still, Pompeo's explanation to lawmakers that "a couple hundred Russians were killed" at Thursday's public hearing was the first time a U.S. official confirmed the reports.

Moscow denies sending soldiers to fight in Syria, calling them "volunteers," and the U.S. has taken pains to avoid addressing direct conflict with Russia in Syria, lest the proxy war escalate. An American military spokesman told The New York Times that the U.S. would not create conflict with Russian forces and said that only Syrian troops were targeted. Summer Meza

April 4, 2018

Personal information from up to 87 million Facebook users was improperly shared with data firm Cambridge Analytica, Facebook revealed Wednesday — significantly more than the company's previous estimate of 50 million.

Most of the 87 million users were Americans, the social media company explained in a blog post. Facebook will start notifying users next week if their information was improperly obtained. The post also outlined a number of measures intended to restrict data access for third-party apps, such as disabling a feature that allows users to search for friends using phone numbers, which put "most people on Facebook" at risk of data-scraping.

Facebook has been under intense scrutiny since reports found that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm with ties to President Trump, had harvested user information without permission. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO, has agreed to testify before the House Oversight Committee to address the "breach of trust." Summer Meza

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