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March 20, 2017
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Most members of President Trump's Cabinet do not have senior leadership teams or top deputies in place amid historically slow nominating and hiring of White House appointees, "but they do have an influential coterie of senior aides installed by the White House who are charged — above all — with monitoring the secretaries' loyalty," The Washington Post reported Sunday, citing "eight officials in and outside the administration." The Post called the arrangement "unusual," and some of those political liaisons, called White House senior advisers, have apparently overstayed their welcome.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, Don Benton — a former Washington state senator who ran Trump's campaign in the state — offered his unsolicited opinion on policy matters so frequently that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has reportedly disinvited him from meetings, in a situation one official described to The Post as out of an episode of Veep. Pentagon officials privately call Brett Byers, charged with keeping an eye on Defense Secretary James Mattis, "the commissar," The Post reports, helpfully explaining that the nickname is "a reference to Soviet-era Communist Party officials who were assigned to military units to ensure their commanders remained loyal."

Most of these political overseers, placed near the Cabinet secretary's office in every department, have little expertise in the subject matter handled at their assigned agencies — Frank Wuco at Homeland Security, for example, plays a fictional jihadist on YouTube to illustrate his blogged contention that Islam is the root of the terrorist threat — and some observers expect their influence to wane once the departments get staffed up. Also, some Cabinet secretaries have been more welcoming of their White House liaisons.

Trump allies argue that the arrangement is necessary for a new president from a different party — though none of Trump's three predecessors employed a similar system. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who still advises Trump, describes the political monitors as part of Trump's pledge to root out corruption in Washington — in this case, the "swamp" would be career bureaucrats and not, say, lobbyists. "If you drain the swamp, you better have someone who watches over the alligators," he said. "These people are actively trying to undermine the new government." You can read more, including what some experts see as the likely outcome of this system, at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

3:49 p.m. ET
South Korean Presidential Blue House via Getty Images

South Korea's ousted President Park Guen-hye was arrested in Seoul early Friday morning. Park, who was impeached and formally removed from office earlier this month over a corruption scandal, is facing charges "including bribery, extortion, and abuse of power," The New York Times reported. A South Korean court had approved Park's arrest on Thursday, and warned that if she was not quickly taken into custody she may "destroy evidence."

Park's ouster and subsequent arrest stemmed from a bribery scandal with her childhood friend, Choi Soon-sil, to extort millions of dollars in bribes from big businesses, including Samsung.

Park is South Korea's first female president, and The New York Times reported she is also the first former South Korean leader to be jailed since the 1990s, when "two former military dictators were imprisoned on corruption and mutiny charges."

Prosecutors will seek a formal indictment within the next 20 days. Becca Stanek

3:23 p.m. ET
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On Thursday, President Trump broadly threatened to run primary challengers against members of the House Freedom Caucus after the ultra-conservative faction put the breaks on the GOP health-care bill last week, claiming it was too similar to ObamaCare. But Trump has apparently threatened specific individuals too, according to Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.).

Sanford told The Post and Courier that Trump sent Sanford's friend, White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney, to deliver the message: "The president asked me to look you square in the eyes and to say that he hoped that you voted 'no' on this bill so he could run [a primary challenger] against you in 2018," Sanford claimed Mulvaney told him. Mulvaney had allegedly not wanted to deliver the message but Trump insisted.

"I mentioned this to a couple of colleagues and they said it sounds very Godfather-ish," Sanford noted. "Their point was that this approach might work in New Jersey, but it probably doesn't work so well in South Carolina." Sanford quoted the South Carolina Republican Creed in response to Trump's threat: "I will never cower before any master, save by God."

Sanford has long been a vocal critic of Trump, slamming him on everything from his refusal to release his tax returns to his baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud. But while Sanford claims he has "nothing" against the president, he added: "I've never had anyone, over my time in politics, put [the threat of a primary challenge] to me as directly as that."

The Post and Courier suggested Sanford might "perhaps [be] understating just how monumental it is for a sitting president to openly go after members of his own party." Jeva Lange

3:22 p.m. ET
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One of the highest women in the White House, deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh, is leaving her post in order to boost a floundering pro-President Trump political group.

Walsh is headed to America First Policies, which is already staffed with several people who worked on the Trump campaign and has been having a hard time doing what it's supposed to do — supporting Trump's agenda (one official told Politico the group "has turned into an embarrassment"). After the health-care vote was scrapped last Friday, Walsh went to Jared Kushner, Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, and Reince Priebus, White House chief of staff, to discuss moving from the White House to work on outside efforts for Trump. Kushner, Priebus, and chief strategist Steve Bannon all thought this made sense and gave their approval, officials told Politico.

White House officials say this isn't part of a shake-up in the West Wing, but rather a reboot. Walsh served as chief of staff at the Republican National Committee while Priebus was chairman, and she was one of many RNC staffers he brought to the White House with him. She has been described by a Trump associate as being "Reince's political secret service" and his "eyes and ears" inside the White House, and an official told Politico not to take her departure as a sign that Priebus will be next. Catherine Garcia

3:06 p.m. ET

Crayola's new 24-pack won't include the color Dandelion, the crayon-making company announced Thursday. The golden-yellow crayon, an iconic color in Crayola's classic pack, was introduced to the box in 1990.

Crayola is giving it a day before it announces which crayon color will step up as Dandelion's replacement. The big reveal will happen on Friday — which happens to be National Crayon Day — at an event in New York City's Time Square that will be livestreamed on Facebook.

Devastating as Dandelion's departure may be, CNBC reported this isn't the first time a crayon has left the box. Crayola replaced eight colors in 1990, and swapped out four more colors in 2003.

Catch Dandelion's farewell announcement below. Becca Stanek

2:26 p.m. ET
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If you like your beef fresh and weighing four ounces, McDonald's will soon be offering what it hopes will be your dream burger.

On Thursday, the company said that starting next year, after using frozen meat for decades, most of its locations in the United States will grill up fresh beef for its Quarter Pounder burgers. McDonald's is trying to shake things up in order to appeal to customers who want their food less processed, and to bring some former fans back into the fold — McDonald's shared earlier this month that in the United States from 2012 to now, the company has lost 500 million customer transactions, The Associated Press reports.

McDonald's USA President Chris Kempczinski said this new version of the burger was tested for around a year in the Dallas and Tulsa areas, and the fast food giant found that customers ordered more of them and made more return visits. It's not known yet if the price will go up, and while the Quarter Pounder is getting the fresh treatment, other Mickey D staples, like Big Macs, will still be made with frozen beef. Catherine Garcia

2:04 p.m. ET
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Two White House officials assisted in getting intelligence reports to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) last week that showed members of President Trump's team were incidentally caught up in foreign surveillance, The New York Times reports.

Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, discussed the reports with Trump before consulting with his fellow members of the committee. Later, Nunes said the night before he spoke with Trump, he received a phone call from a whistle-blower who met him on the White House grounds. U.S. officials have said the reports mostly were just about ambassadors and other foreign officials discussing their attempts to develop contacts in the Trump family and with his friends before the inauguration. Nunes has repeatedly said he will not reveal who gave him the information, and the Times is reporting it came from Ezra Cohen-Watnick, senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer working on national security issues at the White House Counsel's Office.

The House Intelligence Committee is conducting what is supposed to be an independent investigation into meddling by Russia into the 2016 presidential election. Catherine Garcia

1:58 p.m. ET

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) might want to watch out; there's a new punk rocker in town.

Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) reportedly plans to declare Friday that he is running for Cruz's Senate seat in 2018, people familiar with the decision have told The Houston Chronicle. Described by the paper as a pro-marijuana term-limit-supporting liberal who "played in three punk rock bands during and after his college years at Columbia University," O'Rourke, 44, said he was "very moved" to run for Senate in an interview earlier this month.

While Cruz failed in his bid for the presidency last year, he still has a wealth of fundraising sources across the nation and O'Rourke would face an uphill battle against him in the perennial red state. But "Beto brings a fresh approach, a new face, and is someone who is able to connect with Texans across the board," said Matt Angle, the executive director of the Lone Star Project, which promotes Democrats in Texas.

Additionally, because Cruz, as a conservative leader, is a juicy target for liberal groups, O'Rourke could also potentially attract the attention of the senator's out-of-state opponents — and their money.

May the best punk rocker win. Jeva Lange

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