May 17, 2018
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President Trump's attorney Michael Cohen worked behind the scenes to negotiate a business venture in Moscow long after Trump denied financial involvement with Russia, BuzzFeed News reported Thursday, citing internal emails, text messages, and other documents. Cohen's machinations apparently included trying to arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Cohen and Felix Sater, a developer who often worked with the Trump Organization, wanted to license the Trump name to a building that would be called Trump World Tower Moscow, which would have netted at least $100 million for both the Trump Organization and Cohen and Sater.

After several months of back-and-forth negotiations with Russian officials tied to the Kremlin, Sater, and Cohen thought they could pull off a lucrative deal, and wanted to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin to finalize things. Sater, who was born in the Soviet Union and became a federal informant after escaping stock fraud charges, tried to secure funding and approval from Russian officials. In early 2016, Sater said that he had made plans to meet "with Putin's top administration people ... [t]o discuss goals, meeting agenda, and meeting time between Putin and Trump."

Cohen told the House Intelligence Committee in September that the project had been scrapped back in January 2016, but BuzzFeed News reports that he and Sater continued communicating via encrypted messages to work on Trump Tower Moscow. In June 2016, Cohen accepted an invitation to Russia, where he was told he would meet Putin or other top officials, but he reportedly eventually abandoned the plan. Soon afterward, Trump tweeted that he had "ZERO investments in Russia." Read more at BuzzFeed News. Summer Meza

6:34 a.m. ET
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On Thursday morning, Omarosa Manigault Newman released a recording of a December 2017 conversation with Lara Trump, the wife of Eric Trump, in which she appeared to offer the just-fired Manigault Newman $15,000 a month for what didn't sound like very taxing work on President Trump's re-election campaign.

And $15,000 a month seems to be the going rate for former Trump White House officials who worked closely with the president. According to federal election filings reviewed by ABC News, the Trump campaign, Republican National Committee, or pro-Trump America First PAC are also paying former Oval Office security chief Keith Schiller's private firm $15,000 a month for "security services" tied to the 2020 GOP national political convention, $14,000 per month for "payroll" to Trump "body man" John McEntee, and $15,000 a month to former ad director Gary Coby — all of whom, presumably, signed restrictive nondisclosure agreements.

According to the Lara Trump tape, that money comes straight from donors — and some major donors are getting irked "by the revelations that the campaign may have been used as a slush fund to pay fired or troublesome employees," The New York Times reports. "It's diverting donor money that could be used to wage the midterm election battle or store resources for Trump's re-election," said Dan Eberhart, Trump donor and America First adviser. "Instead, it's an elongated hush payment." At the same time, he said, "they still want to win elections," so wallets aren't necessarily closed.

If the donors are annoyed, Trump is "rattled" by the trickle of Manigault Newman's recordings and "Trump's aides have been concerned that they will make appearances on other tapes, of which Ms. Manigault Newman is believed to have as many as 200," the Times reports. On MSNBC Thursday morning, she said, "Believe me, my tapes are much better than theirs." And so far, she's right. Peter Weber

5:15 a.m. ET

Two days after a Pennsylvania grand jury released an 884-page report detailing more than 1,000 cases of child sex abuse by 300 "predator priests" in six dioceses dating back to the 1940s, the Vatican responded Thursday, condemning "unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors." Responding to the report specifically — which also documented widespread cover-ups of the child rape and abuse by bishops and other church leaders — Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said "there are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow."

"The abuses described in the report are criminal and morally reprehensible," Burke said. "The church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur." For Pope Francis, he added, "those who have suffered are his priority, and the church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent." Burke said Francis wants victims to know "the pope is on their side." Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who empaneled the two-year grand jury, suggested the pope push to enact the grand jury's recommendations on extending or ending the statue of limitations for suing over or prosecuting child sex abuse.

The U.S. Catholic Church has been dealing with the fallout from decades of child sex abuse by clergy since The Boston Globe uncovered the extent of it in the Boston archdiocese in the early 2000s, and Chile, Ireland, Australia, and other countries have since uncovered similar abuses. Peter Weber

4:09 a.m. ET

Omarosa Manigault Newman's new White House tell-all has some eye-catching rumors about first lady Melania Trump, including that she chooses her wardrobe to irk President Trump and can't wait to divorce him after Trump leaves office. "That is going to be tough on Trump, because whatever lawyer she gets is already better than his," Stephen Colbert joked on Thursday's Late Show. Whether or not those allegations are true, "there are other signs Melania is distancing herself from Trump," he said, including her supportive statement about LeBron James after her husband called him stupid.

"Now, things may seem tense with Donald and Melania, but they also just spent last week on vacation together, so maybe they've patched things up," Colbert said. To get an insight on that, he turned to Late Show Melania Trump impersonator Laura Benanti. So, are Omarosa's allegations true? he asked. "Of course not, Stephen, she is a wacky lowlife," Late Show Melania replied. "What kind of person ends up in the White House after being on The Apprentice? Ohhh." And what about the LeBron James statement? "LeBron shows that it's never too late to leave home and sign with another team," she said, with sartorial backup. Watch the entire exchange, and the ersatz first lady doing the floss, below. Peter Weber

3:23 a.m. ET
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Late Thursday, a dozen former U.S. intelligence chiefs dating back to the Reagan administration joined retired Adm. William McRaven in openly criticizing President Trump's decision to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance for what appear to be political reasons. The six former CIA directors, five deputy CIA directors, and one director of national intelligence said in their open letter they felt compelled to respond after Trump's "ill-considered and unprecedented remarks and actions" regarding Brennan's security clearance.

The intelligence officials defended Brennan as "an enormously talented, capable, and patriotic individual" and said "insinuations and allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Brennan while in office are baseless." They noted pointedly that not all of them have chosen to "speak out sharply" on Trump's perceived "threats to our national security," as Brennan has. But, they added:

Regardless, we all agree that the president's action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar action against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances — and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech. You don't have to agree with what John Brennan says (and, again, not all of us do) to agree with his right to say it, subject to his obligation to protect classified information. We have never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool, as was done in this case. ... Decisions on security clearances should be based on national security concerns and not political views. [Letter from intelligence chiefs]

Trump is clearly sending a signal to other government officials, they wrote, and "that signal is inappropriate and deeply regrettable." Officials typically retain their security clearance after they leave the government "in order to ensure institutional continuity and in the event their expertise proves useful to their successors," CBS News explains, and some also use it to obtain jobs in the private sector. Peter Weber

2:02 a.m. ET
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It all started with one tree.

In 1979, Padma Shri Jadav "Molai" Payeng came across several snakes on Majuli Island in Assam, India. Flooding brought the snakes to the island, but due to erosion, there wasn't any shade and the snakes died from the heat. Payeng was 16 at the time, and he decided he was going to do something so this never happened again: He planted a sapling, and continued to plant one a day for the next 35 years.

Majuli is the world's largest river island, and 39 years after Payeng planted his first sapling, the trees cover more than 1,360 acres. Named Molai Forest in his honor, it's about 1.6 times larger than Central Park, Travel and Leisure reports, and has several thousand varieties of trees. Elephants, Bengal tigers, rhinos, wild boars, and reptiles call Molai Forest home, and Payeng wants to plant 5,000 more acres. Payeng, who received one of India's highest civilian awards in 2015, arrives in the forest at 5 a.m. every day to care for the trees. He also teaches children how to care for trees, and pushes for more environmental protections. Catherine Garcia

1:47 a.m. ET

In 2015, when Stephen Colbert was hosting the Kennedy Center tribute to Carole King, Aretha Franklin sang King's "Natural Woman" just a few feet away from him, Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show, paying his respects to Franklin, who died Thursday. "And as she started, I said to the man standing next to me, one of the stagehands, I said, 'Man, I wish I could have seen her when she was younger, when she was in full voice.' And boy am I stupid. Because this is what happened."

"There is no queen of soul right now, and she can never be replaced," Colbert said. Aretha Franklin is certainly a hard act to follow, but on The Tonight Show, Ariana Grande paid tribute to Franklin by singing the same song with The Roots.

If that seems unfair to Grande, Trevor Noah sang a few bars of "Natural Woman" during his Daily Show between-the-scenes homage to Franklin, too, explaining how he'd sing the song as a kid in South Africa before he really understood that he was singing about being a woman. Then he talked a bit about Franklin's life and legacy and grit. Watch below. Peter Weber

1:19 a.m. ET
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Elon Musk's nonstop work schedule is fracturing his relationships with friends and family, plus taking a toll on his health, the Tesla CEO told The New York Times on Thursday.

Musk spoke with Times reporters for an hour, and he would sometimes laugh before switching to crying. "This past year has been the most difficult and painful year of my career," he said. "It was excruciating." Musk, 47, said he often works up to 120 hours a week, and he barely made it to his brother's recent wedding, only to leave right when it was over. Spending so much time at work "has really come at the expense of seeing my kids, and seeing friends," he said.

Musk made headlines last week when he tweeted: "Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured." Tesla shares went up, and investigators from the Securities and Exchange Commission have since asked Musk to explain the tweet, people familiar with the matter told the Times, and sent subpoenas to Musk and Tesla's board. Musk said he sent the tweet while driving to the airport, and no one else knew he was going to post it. People with knowledge of the matter said funding is not really secured, and it could be coming from a Saudi Arabian government investment fund, but nothing is set in stone.

They also said the Tesla board is concerned about Musk's workload, his use of Ambien, and his strange tweets (he called a British diver who volunteered to help rescue the children stuck in a cave in Thailand earlier this summer "pedo guy"), and they are searching for someone to come in and work as Musk's No. 2. Musk, meanwhile, is certain that "the worst is yet to come" for him, and he's worried about short-sellers who are "desperately pushing a narrative that will possibly result in Tesla's destruction." Read more of the bleak interview at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

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