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February 14, 2018

A group of Democratic senators sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday inquiring which White House staffers are operating under temporary security clearances. Citing the recent resignation of former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who was reportedly working without a full security clearance after the FBI learned of accusations of physical and mental abuse against him by his two ex-wives, the senators expressed their concern that the White House was allowing the "mishandling of classified information."

"We write out of concern regarding the White House's troubling reliance on the use of interim security clearances," the senators wrote, asking for the names of all staffers who are working on temporary credentials. The letter cites a recent CNN article that claims there are 30 to 40 people in the White House who the lawmakers say have "full access to highly sensitive classified information" even though they are without full security clearances. This is troubling, the lawmakers write, as Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress on Tuesday that people with partial security clearances should usually only have "limited access" to classified documents.

A particular point of concern for the senators was the status of White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who also reportedly has only a temporary security clearance. The letter is signed by six senators, including Cory Booker (N.J.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.). Read it below. Kelly O'Meara Morales

5:03 a.m.

President Trump "is still searching for a new chief of staff," Stephen Colbert said on Tuesday's Late Show. "Like any job working for Trump it comes with dental, paid sick leave, and free government housing for five to 10 years." The White House said Tuesday that current Chief of Staff John Kelly will stay on through "at least Jan. 2" to ensure "a very peaceful and pragmatic transition." Colbert translated: "So they fired Kelly, can't find anybody else, make him stay to train his successor. It's like saying to your girlfriend, 'Hey, I'm breaking up with you, but I'm going to need you to stay on until at least prom to ensure a peaceful and pragmatic transition to Becky over there.'"

The president keeps getting turned down, like "a reverse Apprentice," but "Trump says he's flooded with résumés for the chief of staff job" and is considering 10-12 contenders, Colbert noted. One reason filling the job is so hard is that the candidate apparently has to meet the approval of Jared and Ivanka, "so congratulations to new Chief of Staff Mohammed bin Salman," he deadpanned. Trump told Reuters his chief of staff criteria, and Colbert suggested "he's really looking for his soul mate, him." He tried to decipher a cryptic quote from Trump about Hillary Clinton and money.

Trump also told Reuters that he's not worried about impeachment because "I think the people would revolt if that happened." Colbert found that plausible. "Yes, it's true: The people would take to the streets, vandalizing champagne bottles, grinning with rage, blocking traffic with their protest dancing. It would be absolute pandemonium." He demonstrated. Watch below. Peter Weber

4:06 a.m.

A court in Melbourne, Australia, has convicted Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican's finance chief, on five counts of "historical sexual assault offenses," according to several media reports. The trial, which began Nov. 7, has been subject to a strict gag order in Australia. Pell has denied all allegations of sexual abuse. In the case at hand, Pell, 77, was convicted Tuesday of sexually assaulting two choir boys at Melbourne's St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1996, when he was archbishop of Melbourne. He will be sentenced and taken into custody in February, Crux reports, though his lawyers are likely to appeal the convictions.

Pope Francis appointed Pell as the Vatican's secretary for the economy in 2014 and placed him on his nine-member council of advisers, or the C9, in 2013. Pell, who took a leave of absence in 2017 to fight the abuse charges, was removed from the council at the end of October, the Vatican said Wednesday, along with Chilean Carcinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz Ossa — who stands accused of covering up for abuser priests — and Congolese Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya.

"The Holy See has the utmost respect for the Australian courts," Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Wednesday. "We are aware there is a suppression order in place and we respect that order." Pell, the highest-ranked Catholic official ever tried and now convicted of sexual abuse, still faces additional charges dating back to the 1970s. Peter Weber

3:13 a.m.

Chinese authorities have detained Canadian businessman Michael Spavor, the second Canadian citizen arrested in China this week, and Canada is increasingly concerned that China is retaliating over Canada's arrest of Chinese business executive Meng Wanzhou at America's request. Chinese officials said Thursday that Spavor, an entrepreneur with longstanding ties to North Korea, is being investigated on suspicion of harming China's state security. The former Canadian diplomat arrested Monday night, Michael Kovrig, is being investigated on the same charge, Chinese state media reports.

The U.S. accuses Meng of conspiring to mislead banks about her company, telecom giant Huawei, violating sanctions against Iran, but President Trump suggested on Tuesday that he might intervene in the case, tying Meng's arrest to his trade spat with China and U.S. national security. Canada protested Trump's apparent politicization of what Canadian and U.S. officials strongly insist is a solely legal affair.

China has not linked the detention of the Canadians to Meng's arrest, but "in China there is no coincidence," Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said after Kovrig's arrest. "Unfortunately Canada is caught in the middle of this dispute between the U.S and China." Still, "the detention of Kovrig and possible detention of Spavor reflect an increasingly bold approach to international disputes under President Xi Jinping," The Associated Press notes. "China has often retaliated against foreign governments and corporations in diplomatic disputes, but rarely by holding foreign nationals." Peter Weber

2:23 a.m.

Vox's Matthew Yglesias appears to have something of a political crush on Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and he certainly isn't alone. AOC, as she's known, "is the biggest star in the Democratic Party," with "incredible wit, charisma, social media savvy, and basic political smarts," Yglesias writes, and she "constantly dominates the conversation — living rent-free in the heads of conservatives, racking up magazine profiles and Twitter followers, engaging supporters on Instagram in a heretofore unprecedented way."

In fact, Yglesias writes, "I kind of think she should run for president." AOC is 29, of course, and therefore ineligible to be president. But the "completely ridiculous constitutional provision" that you have to be 35 is "just one of these weird lacuna that was handed down to us from the 18th century but that nobody would seriously propose creating today if not for status quo bias," he argues. He laid out his case. AOC took a pass.

Yglesias suggests amending the Constitution, not that AOC run and "dare the Supreme Court to stop her," but it doesn't seem unreasonable to let her start her first job in government before tackling the biggest job in government. Yglesias has an answer for that, too: Yes, "she's too left-wing for some and would need to demonstrate an ability to staff up and run a big operation while getting up to speed on the dozens of random issues that get tossed your way over the course of a national campaign. But that’s what campaigns are for!" You can read his entire argument — including: "One good sign that AOC should run for president is that she has a nickname — AOC" — at Vox. Peter Weber

1:06 a.m.

"There has been, just today, another big decision in the landmark case of Donald Trump v. Getting Caught," Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday's Late Show. On Wednesday, President Trump's former lawyer "Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison," he said, and he had a tip for Cohen: "First day in prison, you walk right up the biggest guy in the yard, and you pay him $130,000."

"Before Cohen climbed up onto the prison bus, he made sure to throw Trump under it," copping to covering up Trump's "dirty deeds," Colbert said. "And evidently, you suck at it." He read some excerpts from Cohen's tortured confessional and regrets about working for Trump. Cohen said that ironically, he is finally getting his freedom back, but Colbert disagreed: "Actually, the irony is that while you're in prison for your crimes, the guy who ordered you to do the crimes will be at Mar-a-Lago sharing chocolate cake with Xi Jinping and Kid Rock."

"It's especially infuriating to watch Trump pretend to care about the law when his own Justice Department just accused him of a crime for paying hush money to cover up affairs," the crime that's sending Cohen to jail, Seth Meyers said at Late Night. And "Cohen told the court in no uncertain terms that he committed those crimes at the direction of Donald Trump." With Trump facing potential felony charges, he joked, "forget running for re-election — in two years, Trump might be running from the feds." His imagined reason Trump gets caught is worth a watch.

While Cohen was being sentenced to three years, "Michael Flynn, Trump's former National Security Adviser, made an interesting argument for why he shouldn't go to prison," Trevor Noah said on The Daily Show. "Yeah, that's right, Michael Flynn says he didn't know lying to the FBI is a crime." He suggested helpfully that "going forward, everyone working for Trump should just be read their Miranda rights on their first day." Watch below. Peter Weber

December 12, 2018

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sealed a deal with restive Democratic lawmakers Wednesday evening that gives her enough votes to ensure a second turn as House speaker when the next Congress gavels into session in January.

Under the agreement, finalized Monday night with three Democrats who opposed her speakership, Pelosi pledges to support a measure that will limit the top three House Democrats — Pelosi, incoming Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), and Democratic Whip Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.) — to three two-year terms, with a fourth term possible given support from two-thirds of Democrats. Since all three Democrats have already served two terms in their upcoming roles, they would have to step down no later than 2022. House Democrats will vote on the proposal by Feb. 15.

Hoyer and Clyburn oppose the measure, but Pelosi, 78, said in a statement that she's "comfortable with the proposal and it is my intention to abide by it whether it passes or not." She reiterated that she sees herself "as a bridge to the next generation of leaders, a recognition of my continuing responsibility to mentor and advance new members into positions of power and responsibility in the House Democratic caucus." After she released her statement, seven Democratic holdouts said they will vote for her, giving her one more vote than needed to be elected speaker.

If elected Jan. 3, Pelosi, already the first female House speaker, will join a small group of lawmakers who lost the speaker's gavel then reclaimed it. The last repeat House speaker was Sam Rayburn (D-Texas), whose second term began in 1955. "No other two-time speaker has reclaimed the gavel after more than four years out of power," The Washington Post notes. Peter Weber

December 12, 2018

President Trump's administration is again ramping up its anti-refugee efforts. And this time, people who fled the Vietnam War are in the crosshairs.

Vietnam and the U.S. established diplomatic ties in 1995, and immigrants who arrived in America before then were protected from deportation under a 2008 agreement. But the Trump administration now believes the agreement doesn't actually protect them, a spokesperson for Hanoi's U.S. embassy tells The Atlantic, and it might start sending some of them back.

Trump has a long track record of opposing refugee resettlement, from reducing America's cap on how many refugees it will accept per year to moving to end protections that spare at-risk immigrants from deportation. Just Tuesday, Trump officials moved to deport 46 Cambodian immigrants legally living in the U.S., The New York Times reported.

This latest refugee crackdown came as Trump officials met with Washington's Vietnamese embassy, with an advocacy group telling The Atlantic they discussed reworking the 2008 agreement. A previous reinterpretation of the deal under Trump decided its protections didn't apply to "pre-1995 arrivals with criminal convictions," The Atlantic writes. A handful of Vietnamese immigrants were deported after the August decision.

Officials from Vietnam and the U.S. protested the change, and both countries' governments tried to reason further with the White House, America's ambassador to Vietnam through October of this year says. But Trump officials are still moving to strip the 2008 deal's protections from all pre-1995 immigrants — many of whom fled the Vietnam War and have obviously lived in America for decades.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security said "we have 5,000 convicted criminal aliens from Vietnam with final orders of removal" and "it's a priority of this administration to remove" them. Read more at The Atlantic. Kathryn Krawczyk

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