October 11, 2018

New York's Olivia Nuzzi had a pretty crazy Tuesday, unexpectedly invited into the Oval Office where she interviewed President Trump — then White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and sundry other Trump administration officials. In her entertaining writeup, "you call this meeting a 'private Oval Office press conference,'" CNN's Don Lemon reminded Nuzzi on Wednesday night. "And it's a wild read. Tell us about it." Watching one top Trump official after another parade in, purportedly serendipitously, to insist that the White House was a sea of tranquility "felt, frankly, ridiculous after a while," she said. "You know, I was on no sleep at all, and I hadn't had coffee, and I just kept thinking, like, what is happening?"

Alice Stewart, a GOP strategist and Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) former communications director, jumped in to congratulate Nuzzi on the story, on her own behalf and, more surprisingly, on behalf of the White House. Stewart said she was eating at a restaurant on Wednesday evening, saw one of the officials in Nuzzi's article, mentioned she was going on CNN with Nuzzi, and asked him what he thought of the article. "He said, 'Make sure to tell Olivia that this was a very fair piece.' They were pleased with how it came out, because it was virtually — the piece was like you were live-blogging," Stewart said. "They say this is a classic case of what 'fake news' is not. And so they wanted to say that the appreciated the opportunity that you gave them to tell the story, and I think you did a great job."

"Wait, Alice, who said that?" Nuzzi said. "I've gotta know." "I cannot reveal my sources," Stewart said, laughing. Watch below. Peter Weber

6:50 a.m.

Rachel Maddow added a little something special to the historical record on MSNBC Thursday night, and she says it's pretty relevant to today's geopolitical situation. She began with a note Vice President George H.W. Bush wrote to disgraced former Vice President Spiro Agnew in October 1988, thanking him for his advice right before a game-changing presidential debate against Michael Dukakis. Agnew, Maddow reminded viewers, had resigned in 1973, right before Watergate broke, and narrowly avoided jail for tax fraud.

But her main event was a secret deal between Agnew and the Saudi crown prince in 1980. It starts with a telex in which Agnew begs the crown prince for an audience to address "a personal emergency that is of critical importance to me." An August 1980 letter spells out what that personal emergency was. Maddow summarized it like this: "Spiro Agnew was writing to the Saudi royal family to solicit their help, their financial support, for him to lead a scorched-earth propaganda campaign in the United States to expose the Jews. To wage a political war on Jews in America."

Specifically, Agnew painted a conspiracy to destroy him by "Zionists" and the media "they" control, and asked for $600,000 that he could live off while he continued "my fight against the Zionist enemies who are destroying my once great nation." And in Maddow's "favorite part," Agnew signed off: "My congratulations to Your Highness on the clear and courageous call to Jihad."

"The jihad-congratulations reference there appears to be a reference to the fact that the Saudi crown prince, just days earlier, had publicly called for a holy war against Israel," Maddow explained. And the Saudis appear to have given him at least $100,000. "Less than 10 years out of office, a former American vice president orchestrated a secret financial deal with Saudi Arabia to fight Jews in this country," she reiterated. "That seems like something that should matter even today," when the same Saudi royal family is in control. Watch below. Peter Weber

5:17 a.m.

Former President Barack Obama was at the Duke-North Carolina game Wednesday night when Duke star Zion Williamson's shoe split, leaving him with a knee injury, and Stephen Colbert showed Obama mouthing "His shoe broke" at the game on Thursday's Late Show. "It's so refreshing to see a president who can actually see a problem and identify it — you know Trump would have said 'Fake shoes,'" he said. "Of course, Obama's not everybody's cup of tea. Some people prefer Trump. For instance a lot of local news stations are owned by a company called the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which has been accused of being pro-Trump."

On Monday, Sinclair made 50 stations broadcast a "must-run video" from chief political analysts and former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn, and one particularly sycophantic suggestion caught Colbert's attention. "Trump on Rushmore might not be that far-fetched because — and I swear this is real — there's a section of the mountain that already kind of looks like him," he said, showing the image. "But if pro-Trump reporting and his aging skinhead fanboys calm, then we've prepared an ever more pro-Trump message from our in-house broadcast team Real News Tonight."

Also on Thursday, Trump friend and longtime adviser Roger Stone was hauled into court over an Instagram post that seemed to threaten Judge Amy Berman Jackson with crosshairs. In one of his funnier excuses, Stone said he thought the crosshairs was a Celtic symbol. "Oh yes," Colbert deadpanned. "It goes back to Roman times when the Celts in Northern Europe used to threaten judges on Instagram."

The judge told Stone she had "serious doubts" he's learned "any lesson at all" and appears "to need clear boundaries" — "Yes, possibly a series of vertical steel boundaries," Colbert suggested — and she gave Stone a full gag order. "So if you want to communicate with Roger Stone," Colbert said, "do it the old-fashioned way and contact him through his Russian hackers." Peter Weber

4:00 a.m.

Federal prosecutors have charged Internal Revenue Service investigative analyst John Fry with leaking confidential suspicious-activity reports (SARs) about Michael Cohen, President Trump's former lawyer, to Michael Avenatti, the attorney representing porn actress Stormy Daniels, according to court documents unsealed in San Francisco on Thursday. SARs flag potentially unlawful bank transactions, and Fry reportedly admitted to describing and sending images of Cohen's SARs to Avenatti in May 2018 and discussing them with New Yorker journalist Ronan Farrow.

The Washington Post and Farrow's New Yorker soon published articles, based on the SARs, tracing Cohen's hush-money payments to Daniels to stay quiet about her purported extramarital affair with Trump. Both articles are cited in the government's criminal complaint. Cohen has since pleaded guilty to campaign finance law violations stemming from those payments, which he says he made on Trump's orders. The SARs also led to the discovery of other shady payments to Cohen. Peter Weber

3:01 a.m.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw told the Justice Department that he may expand his order from last July that the Trump administration reunite most families separated under President Trump's "zero tolerance" border policy in the light of new evidence that the policy started earlier than originally acknowledged.

"No one but a few in the government knew that these separations had been going on nine or 10 months before, and that hundreds if not thousands of children were" being separated, Sabraw told Justice Department lawyer Scott Stewart. "The court didn't know that and plaintiffs didn't know that, and I don't think government counsel knew that." Stewart pushed back, saying accounting for and reuniting more than the roughly 2,800 families included under Sabraw's original order would "blow the case into some other galaxy" and suggested such an decision may push the Justice Department to fight Sabraw "tooth and nail."

The ACLU, the plaintiff in the case, wants Sabraw to extend his order to all families separated under Trump since July 2017, and ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt said his organization is "prepared, no matter how big the burden is," to continue helping track down separated parents and children, with information provided by the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Health and Human Services. The first step is identifying which parents and children have been separated. "It's important to recognize that we're talking about human beings," Sabraw reminded Stewart. "Every person needs to be accounted for."

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has continued separating hundreds of children from their families under a system where U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents untrained in child welfare decide if a parent poses a "danger" to the child, USA Today details. "Family separations are still very much happening in the southern border," Efrén Olivares at the Texas Civil Rights Project tells NBC News. The organization has discovered at least a few wrongly separated families, he added. Peter Weber

2:05 a.m.

Besides bamboo, there's nothing Mei Xiang and Bei Bei love more than frolicking in the snow.

The giant pandas live at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C. During a snowstorm on Wednesday, Mei Xiang, 20, and Bei Bei, 3, went wild, tumbling and doing somersaults on the fresh powder. When they weren't rolling around in the snow, they were climbing trees, falling down from trees, and stopping for bamboo breaks. Watch the adorable video below. Catherine Garcia

1:38 a.m.

He's young, he's shirtless, he's ... Abraham Lincoln?

For years, an eight-foot sculpture titled "Young Lincoln" has been on display inside the Los Angeles Federal Courthouse. Made in 1941, it's the shirtless, smoldering version of the 16th president, complete with the limestone Lincoln tugging at his waistband (before you get too excited, he's got a book in the other hand). Someone recently snapped a photo of the sculpture and posted it online, and now, people are having a field day renaming the piece, calling it "Babe-raham Lincoln," "The Gettysburg Undress," and "Honest Abs."

The sculpture was made by James Lee Hansen when he was only 23, and at the time of its unveiling, he was criticized for not putting a shirt on the president. Hansen explained that "from a sculpturing standpoint, it's better to show the body without any clothes. That's why I left 'em off." While he could have followed up with "F.D.Rawr," "Young Lincoln" was Hansen's only sculpture of a topless president. Catherine Garcia

12:57 a.m.

"It's a strange and disturbing news day in America — The New York Times summed it up with their new slogan, 'All the News That's Ick to Print,'" Stephen Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show. "And the icky part, I gotta say, starts with Empire actor Jussie Smollett," arrested Thursday for allegedly faking his own hate crime. "Now, this story involves race, sexuality, politics, and violence, so I need to tread very lightly here and simply say: What a dick," Colbert said. "Smollett cast himself as a fake national symbol for our real racial and political divide." He outlined the case.

"Look, I'm no expert, but if you're going to fake a white supremacist hate crime, hire two white guys," Colbert suggested, not two black brothers. "Smollett also — and this is a conspiracy no-no, paid the brothers by check. Come on. It did not help that he wrote in the memo line: 'For faking hate crime against me, Jussie Smollett, the guy from Empire.'" This whole case "is a horrible affront to actual victims of hate crimes," he added. President Trump, of course, attacked Smollett on Twitter.

"But Smollett isn't the only icky news today — last night we found out the FBI has arrested a Coast Guard officer who was planning a rampage against Democrats and journalists," Colbert said. "The officer in question, Christopher P. Hasson, once wrote a letter, 'I am a long time White Nationalist, having been a skinhead 30-plus years.' Thirty years? That is a long time. He is close to skinhead retirement. Soon he can cash in his 401(KKK)."

"So this man is a homicidal, racist monster, serving in our military, but don't worry, the commander in chief slapped him down with a savage tweet of ... nothing," Colbert said. "Silence. Hasn't commented. It makes sense: Hasson only wants to kill everyone on earth, it's not like he's hosting SNL." Watch below. Peter Weber

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