March 14, 2018

President Trump has chosen economist and media analyst Larry Kudlow to direct the National Economic Council, Politico reported Wednesday. Kudlow will replace Gary Cohn, the Goldman Sachs executive who resigned from the post amid disagreements over Trump's steel and aluminum import tariffs.

Trump called Kudlow on Tuesday night to offer the job, and Kudlow accepted, CNN reports. Kudlow was long considered a frontrunner to step in as the chief economic adviser, after his role informally helping to shape Trump's messaging on taxes and other economic issues during the 2016 presidential election, reports CNBC.

Kudlow is a CNBC senior contributor and on-air personality, and worked for former President Ronald Reagan in the Office of Management and Budget, helping to craft economic policy. His former CNBC cohost, Jim Cramer, reported that Kudlow was a strong contender for the job earlier this week.

CNBC reports that Trump spoke of welcoming Kudlow's perspective Tuesday. "We don't agree on everything, but in this case I think that's good," Trump said. "I want to have different opinions. We agree on most." Summer Meza

8:10 a.m. ET

The fourth nor'easter in a month is set to pummel New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, with up to 18 inches of snow expected in some areas.

Nicknamed Winter Storm Toby, the forecast includes the potential for coastal flooding as well as "thundersnow" and power outages due to high winds. New York City preemptively announced school closures on Tuesday, affecting some 1.1 million children, and more than 4,000 flights have already been canceled, CBS News and USA Today report.

"Not a bust today folks," tweeted Baltimore meteorologist Tony Pann as the first flakes began to fall. "[T]he storm is just getting started!" Jeva Lange

7:59 a.m. ET
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Only a small circle of people in the White House knew that President Trump ignored all-caps advice from his national security advisers for his phone call Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin — "DO NOT CONGRATULATE" him on his re-election — and one of them leaked it to The Washington Post, leaving Trump and his senior staff "furious and rattled," Axios reports. Each of the possible leakers "is trusted with sensitive national secrets," and "the speed and sensitivity of the leak prompted immediate finger-pointing within the administration."

Whatever the motive for the leak — concern over Trump's handling of Putin, anger that he ignored his aides, power games — one White House official told Jonathan Swan that Trump's congratulatory comment was just "the way Trump is. If he's doing business with you or working with you in some way, he's going to congratulate you." Plus, "the idea he's being soft on Russia is crap," the "furious" official added. Trump simply "doesn't want his personal relationship [with Putin] to be acrimonious," seeing that "leader-to-leader" congeniality as the key to rebuilding the U.S.-Russian relationship. Peter Weber

7:45 a.m. ET
Pete Marovich/Getty Images

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who is allergic to economy class seats on airplanes, spent some $105,000 on first class flights during his first year in office, the EPA has told the House Oversight Committee, as reported by Politico.

Perhaps the most baffling trip of all was a four-day excursion to Morocco in December, where Pruitt somehow missed his connecting flight to Rabat and was forced to stay overnight in Paris, and then missed two additional flights. Total cost of the trip: $17,631, not including what was spent on his 10-person staff. The EPA said the trip was affected by the weather, although that doesn't explain the $500 splurge on a hotel while in Paris.

Additional pricey flights include a trip from Tulsa to New York ($3,330, plus $669 to stay in Manhattan); a trip to Corpus Christi, Texas ($3,900); a trip to Jackson, Mississippi ($3,200); and a trip to Nebraska ($3,610), The Washington Post reports.

The EPA has defended Pruitt's practices by claiming the "EPA's Protective Service Detail identified specific ongoing threats associated with Administrator Pruitt's travel and shifted his class based on certain security protocols that require him to be near the front of the plane." It was later revealed those threats were primarily people yelling at him in airports. Jeva Lange

7:22 a.m. ET
Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images

At least 29 people were killed in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday morning and 52 injured when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device on the road to a Shiite shrine. Wednesday is the Persian new year, Nowruz, which Afghanistan's minority Shiites celebrate by visiting shrines. The Islamic State, a Sunni group, claimed responsibility for the attack through its Aamaq news agency. Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh said the bomber, traveling on foot, was trying to get to the shrine, which has been attacked before. "We had our security in place in and around the shrine," he said. "All the casualties were young men who were either passing by on the road or gathering to enjoy Nowruz." Peter Weber

5:23 a.m. ET

The suspect in the serial bombings that terrorized Austin this month was killed early Wednesday during a standoff with police along Interstate 35 in Round Rock, just north of Austin, police tell local media. The suspect detonated an explosive device and possibly shot himself, CBS News reports. A high-ranking law enforcement official tells the Austin American-Statesman that authorities identified the suspect within the past 24 hours, thanks mostly to evidence gathered from when the suspect shipped explosives-filled packages from a FedEx store in southwest Austin, one of which went off at a FedEx facility north of San Antonio early Tuesday. The official also said that along with surveillance video from FedEx, authorities studied suspicious purchases by the suspect and his Google history obtained through a warrant, and they tracked the suspect to a hotel using cellphone tracking technology.

Since March 2, at least five explosions killed two people in Austin and injured at least four others. The latest scare was an apparently unrelated incendiary device that went off at a Goodwill store in South Austin. Peter Weber

Update 6:15 am E.T.: Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said at a press conference that the suspect, a 24-year-old white male, blew himself up inside his car after police followed him from a hotel parking lot. One officer was injured and another fired at the suspect. "We do not understand what motivated him to do what he did," Manley said, and police will not identify the suspect until he is positively identified by a medical examiner. "We don't know where this suspect spent the last 24 hours," or if he had any accomplices, he added, so residents of Austin and surrounding communities should still exercise caution. You can watch the news conference below.

4:32 a.m. ET

Last week, lawyers for President Trump and Special Counsel Robert Mueller sat down to discuss which topics investigators could ask Trump about, Stephen Colbert said on Tuesday's Late Show, showing an artist's rendition of what Trump's lawyers asked for: "They will allow questions on the 2016 electoral map and noises trucks make, but nothing about Stormy's bathing suit area or 'Vlad stuff.'" Trump is also shaking up his legal team, Colbert added, introducing viewers to former U.S. attorney, Fox News regular, and new Trump lawyer Joe diGenova.

Another Trump lawyer, John Dowd, might be leaving because, according to The New York Times, he has concluded he has "no control over the behavior of the president." "You just figured that out?" Colbert asked. "Come on, man, Trump doesn't even have control over Trump's behavior." He mourned the thought of Trump sacking his other lawyer, Ty Cobb, and had a wry laugh at Ivanka Trump's turn as a vape-lab analyst in Iowa.

Meanwhile, "on Sunday, Vladimir Putin won an election rigged to prop up a dangerous strongman who is threatening Western democracy," Colbert said. "That requires a strong response — so Donald Trump called him up to say, 'Atta boy!'" Among those unhappy "that Trump was giving the thumbs-up to a murderous dictator for winning a sham election" were his national security team and a bipartisan group of senators — including Sen. John McCain (R), who slammed Trump for insulting "every Russian citizen denied the right to vote in a free and fair election." Colbert had some words of consolation — "Don't worry, Sen. McCain, the Russians still have a chance to vote in our midterm!" — and a creative way to paper over the fact that former President Barack Obama also congratulated Putin on his similarly shady 2012 win. Watch below. Peter Weber

3:44 a.m. ET

On Tuesday, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) beat back a primary challenge from state Rep. Jeanne Ives (R), who attacked him from the right, and fellow billionaire investor J.B. Pritzker won a three-way contest for the Democratic nomination to challenge Rauner in November. Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, beat Chris Kennedy, the son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, and state Sen. Daniel Biss. Pritzker has already put $70 million of his own money into the race and Rauner has put in $50 million of his fortune, setting this up to be the most expensive governor's race in U.S. history, beating California's 2010 contest.

In other races, former Gov. Pat Quinn (D) is neck and neck with state Sen. Kwame Raoul for the state attorney general nomination, and seven-term Rep. Dan Lipinski (D) very narrowly fended off a challenge from a more progressive candidate, Marie Newman. Lipinksi, one of the few Democrats left in Congress who opposes abortion rights, will face Arthur Jones, a Holocaust-denying neo-Nazi who ran unopposed in the GOP primary. That's not hyperbole. You can get a taste of Jones below. Peter Weber

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