April 16, 2018

A former Japanese prime minister is predicting that the country's embattled current leader, Shinzo Abe, will resign in June.

"The situation is getting dangerous," Junichiro Koizumi told the weekly magazine Aera. "Won't Mr. Abe resign around the time parliament's session ends," on June 20? Abe has denied several reports that he intervened in land sales and building deals to help friends, but he's facing mounting calls to step down. On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated near parliament, chanting, "Abe quit!"

Nippon TV released a new survey on Sunday showing Abe's support is only at 26.7 percent — the lowest point since he took office in December 2012. Catherine Garcia

12:14 p.m.

How could this backfire?

On Jan. 29, Empire actor Jussie Smollett was hospitalized after claiming two men yelling racist and homophobic slurs assaulted him, and Chicago police quickly started investigating his report as a hate crime. Now Chicago police say Smollett staged the whole thing — and they have the literal checks to prove it.

Police arrested Smollett on Wednesday night on a felony charge of filing a false police report, and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson elaborated in a Thursday press conference that Smollett gave two men a $3,500 check to attack him — a form of payment that's literally designed to produce a physical receipt. Police have the check, Johnson said, before lambasting Smollett's "shameful" alleged stunt and asking "why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations?"

Fox said Wednesday that Smollet was "not being written out of" Empire, but it's now considering suspending him, Variety reports. Read more details from the police press conference here. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:27 a.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is really, really close to running for president. There's just one thing holding him back: his family.

Biden rejected a 2016 run because his campaign would've had to start just after the May 2015 death of his son Beau Biden. And this time around, Biden is worried opponents will turn his family into a weapon, Biden aides tell NBC News.

Even though Biden hasn't announced an official run or even an exploratory committee, primary polls have consistently put him on top of the extra large Democratic field. He's reportedly joined potential opponents in discussing a run with former President Barack Obama, and in recent weeks, upped his likelihood of running "from 70, to 80 and even more recently 90 percent," Democrats and party figures tell NBC News. He's also reportedly called and congratulated some 2020 candidates on their announcements, despite saying in December he's "the most qualified person in the country to be president."

Biden has also gone so far as to threaten to physically fight President Trump, so there's no concern over his willingness to rumble. He's just worried about "reprehensible" attacks on his family — something Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) explained when speaking with NBC News after consulting with Biden about 2020. "Trump demonstrated in the 2016 election an enthusiasm for attacking not just his opponents but his family, including famously by making things up," Coons said, adding that he thinks Biden should "let others take up the mantle of defending his family."

Still, Biden has a few more "gut-check conversations with his children and grandchildren" to check off before making a final decision, NBC News says. Read more about his reservations at NBC News. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:00 a.m.

Chicago police said on Thursday that actor Jussie Smollett staged a fake hate crime because he wasn't happy with his Empire salary.

After bringing Smollett into custody and charging him with filing a false police report, police said in a press conference that Smollett orchestrated a "publicity stunt" that has left a "scar on Chicago." Authorities for the first time alleged a motive in the case, saying Smollett was dissatisfied with his pay.

Smollett had claimed he was attacked by two men who beat him, tied a rope around his neck, and screamed, "This is MAGA country!" But Chicago police said Thursday he actually paid the two men, two Nigerian brothers, $3,500 to attack him, and that they have the checks to prove it. The brothers, one of whom worked on Empire, were the ones to tell police about Smollett's motive, authorities added.

Police also said Smollett was not hurt "other than scratches on his face" and that these injuries "were most likely self-inflicted." Smollett had said he received a threatening letter prior to the alleged attack, but police said Smollett was also responsible for sending this letter.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson went after Smollett for his alleged hoax, asking, "Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations?" Johnson also said that Smollett "took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career" and that what he did is "shameful." Brendan Morrow

10:14 a.m.

Fox News' Tucker Carlson really doesn't like Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) child-care plan, but for a fairly unexpected reason.

The Democratic candidate for president in 2020 on Tuesday had unveiled a new child-care proposal, explaining that the federal government would "partner with local providers ... to create a network of child-care options that would be available to every family." Access would be free for families who make less than 200 percent of the income determined as the federal poverty line, while families who make more would pay no more than 7 percent of their income for child-care.

Carlson, let's just say, was no fan of this idea, going after it Wednesday night by dismissing it as a "daycare scheme" and claiming that Warren is arguing that "the American dream is not raising your own children. The American dream is outsourcing their upbringing to government caretakers while their parents scurry back to work as good little servants of globalized market capitalism."

Carlson concluded that "the need for government daycare specialists will no doubt be used to justify more immigration" and that Democrats have decided to "outsource parenting." Watch the clip below, via Media Matters. Brendan Morrow

10:00 a.m.

Apple is looking for another route into your wallet.

After facing pretty slow adoption of its Apple Pay system, Apple has teamed up with Goldman Sachs to create an iPhone-linked credit card, The Wall Street Journal reports. Employees will test the cards within the next few weeks, and it'll be available to the public later this year, the Journal says.

iPhone sales have slowed recently, possibly as customers start to realize Apple is charging more and more for a barely changed product. So along with its forays into Hollywood, news curation, and music streaming, Apple is "turning to fee-generating services" to hopefully make an additional $50 billion by 2020, the Journal says.

Meanwhile, mega-bank Goldman Sachs is trying to recoup losses in securities trading with its new online consumer bank Marcus, the Journal says. Still, it hasn't exactly caught on with average consumers — something the bank is seemingly trying to correct with this reported Apple collaboration. Goldman Sachs has never issued a credit card before, so it's reportedly designated $200 million to build its own payment system. It's also building "customer-support call centers around the country," sources tell the Journal.

The so-called Apple Pay card will be on MasterCard's payment network, and customers will reportedly earn about 2 percent cash back, per the Journal. That percentage could be higher on Apple product purchases, some sources said. It'll all reportedly be integrated with the iPhone's Wallet app, allowing users to "set spending goals, track their rewards, and manage their balances," the Journal continues. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:01 a.m.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is running ... away from the possibility of a 2020 Senate bid.

In an interview with Today on Thursday, Pompeo was asked about speculation that he'll run for Senate in Kansas next year. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) has announced he will not seek another term in 2020, and Politico reported last month that Pompeo was meeting with a Republican strategist to discuss possibly running for the open seat. The Washington Post had previously reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has "personally courted" Pompeo to run.

When asked about this speculation Thursday, Pompeo at first simply said that he loves Kansas and that he would serve as secretary of state as long as "President Trump gives me the opportunity." When asked if that means he has no interest in being a senator, Pompeo said, "I love doing what I'm doing."

None of this seemed to be a definitive no, so when Today's Craig Melvin observed, "Sounds like you're not ruling it out," Pompeo finally said, "It's ruled out. I'm here. I'm loving it." Watch the clip below. Brendan Morrow

8:25 a.m.

Two polls Wednesday found that a plurality of Virginia voters don't think Gov. Ralph Northam (D) should resign over his revelation that he dressed in blackface once in 1984, after a photo of a man in blackface standing next to a man in a KKK robe was found on his 1984 medical school yearbook page. In Quinnipiac's poll, 56 percent of black voters opposed Northam's resignation. There are several possible explanations for Northam's apparent political survival, but one of them is that blatantly racist yearbook photos were shockingly common in the 1970s and 1980s, USA Today found.

In a review of 900 yearbooks from 120 universities and colleges in 25 states in the '70s and '80s, USA Today found "students saluting in Nazi uniforms on Halloween or wearing orange paint and a headdress to depict a stereotype of a Native American on game day," a swastika banner, and photos of "'slave sale' fundraisers that auctioned off young women, 'plantation parties,' and a 'sharecroppers ball,'" the newspaper said. "But the vast majority of the offensive material show racist imagery, such as students in blackface or KKK robes," sometimes including nooses and mock lynchings.

"The volume of shocking imagery found in the examination, which was not comprehensive, suggests that there are likely more yearbooks that recorded racism on campuses nationwide — and countless more acts never captured on camera or submitted for publication," USA Today notes. Experts called this a systemwide failure at universities, and Andre M. Perry at the Brookings Institute had a theory. "The way to fit in, sadly, is to make fun of black people," he told USA Today. "It's a unifying act. It's sad but racism pulls people, particularly white people, together." You can read more at USA Today. Peter Weber

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