Things that make you go hmmmm
May 3, 2019

Rep. Steve Cohen's (D-Tenn.) chicken-themed antics at Attorney General William Barr's no-show House testimony on Thursday was so over-the-top that Stephen Colbert's Late Show kicked off Thursday night's show by poking fun at him.

Friday morning's Fox & Friends hosts mocked Cohen a little harder, focusing on his KFC breakfast — Barr was "chicken" for not showing up to face Democrats' questions — but when they asked contributors Diamond & Silk for their reaction, things got a little ... strange.

Cohen and Barr are both white, and making eating fried chicken about race seems a little ... racially insensitive? Peter Weber

March 20, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a Monday afternoon phone briefing on his trip to the Middle East and "international religious freedom." But the one member of the State Department press corps invited to participate in the call was "un-invited after RSVPing," told the call was for "faith-based media only," CNN reports. The State Department said it won't release a transcript of the call or a list of participating outlets, and "officials would not answer questions about whether a range of faiths was included."

On Tuesday, Religion News Service listed some of the participants in the call: Jewish Telegraphic Agency (Jewish), Algemeiner (Jewish), World Magazine (evangelical Christian), America Magazine (Catholic), The Leaven (Catholic — Kansas City archdiocese), and Religion News Service ("a secular news service that covers religion, spirituality, and ethics").

A participant in the call shared a transcript with reporters on Tuesday evening, showing that "Pompeo faced questions about the Israeli election, terrorism, and the omission of the word 'occupied' when describing the Golan Heights and the West Bank," CNN reports. In a subsequent briefing with the traveling press corps, CNN says, Pompeo "was asked similar questions and provided similar responses."

Former State Department spokesman Jack Kirby told CNN it's "inappropriate and irresponsible" not to release the transcript of "any on-the-record interview in which a Cabinet official participates," and excluding "beat reporters from something as universally relevant as religious freedom in the Middle East strikes me as not only self-defeating but incredibly small-minded."

The Trump administration is expected to unveil its long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan after Israel's election, and earlier this month the White House hosted a group of evangelical Christian leaders "to reassure them about the plan," Axios reported. Pompeo declined to comment on the White House's outreach in Monday's call, RNS reports, but he said a "broad base of people" will be briefed, and "as an evangelical Christian myself, I've always understood the centrality of that place." Peter Weber

February 20, 2019

CNN has hired Sarah Isgur, a longtime Republican political operative and recent Justice Department spokeswoman, as a political editor helping to steer the network's 2020 campaign coverage. The hire, first reported by Politico, caught CNN's editorial staff by surprise, not just because her résumé is full of partisan advocacy but also because it contains no experience in journalism or managing a TV news operation. She has also publicly disparaged the news media, including CNN. "It's extremely demoralizing for everyone here," one CNN editorial staffer told The Daily Beast.

CNN officials said Isgur will be one of several editors directing coverage of the Democratic primary and President Trump's re-election campaign at the network, reporting to political director David Chalian, and she'll also occasionally offer analysis on air. She will apparently not be involved in coverage of the Justice Department. TV networks often hire political operatives and politicians as analysts and program hosts, but it is very rare to bring them on to direct political news coverage.

Before joining the Trump administration as the top spokeswoman for former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Isgur served as a political adviser to Ted Cruz and Mitt Romney, was deputy communications director at the Republican National Committee, and served as deputy campaign manager for Carly Fiorina's presidential campaign. Thanks to comments she made about Trump while working for Fiorina, she had to personally pledge loyalty to Trump before he would allow Sessions to hire her, The Washington Post reported in April 2018. Peter Weber

October 19, 2018

At a rally in Montana on Thursday night, President Trump trotted out a confusing new theory about a group of Honduran migrants trying to head to the U.S., currently stalled in Guatemala: The Democrats sent them. Why would Democrats try to lure some 3,000 Honduran citizens up to the U.S. right before an election that Trump is increasingly trying to make a referendum on illegal immigration? They "figure everybody coming in is going to vote Democrat," Trump said, rallying for the Republican Senate candidate challenging Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

Noncitizens can't vote in U.S. elections, of course, but Trump let that slide. "A lot of money's been passing through people to come up and try to get to the border by Election Day because they think that's a negative for us," Trump said. "They wanted that caravan and there are those that say that caravan didn't just happen. It didn't just happen."

The president appears to be referring to a video posted on Twitter first by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) then by Trump of a man passing out what appears to be money to a group of women, the theory — as explained by Newt Gingrich — being that somebody is paying Hondurans to migrate to America for some unexplained reason. Gaetz later explained: "This video was provided to me by a Honduran government official. Thus, I believed it to be from Honduras."

Trump is so concerned about 3,000 Hondurans trying to make their way to the U.S. border that he threatened on Thursday to "call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!" Peter Weber

September 26, 2018

President Trump held a rare solo press conference Wednesday, where he said that "fake" sexual misconduct allegations against him have shaped his view of accusations regarding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

"I've been accused," said Trump, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by at least 10 women, saying that "false charges" have "absolutely" affected his sympathy toward Kavanaugh. Three women have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct.

Trump complained that The New York Times published a story with allegations from "four or five women" who he says were "paid a lot of money to make up stories about me." If you want the real story, said Trump, check with Fox News or host Sean Hannity. MSNBC's Chris Hayes called the theory "Alex Jones-level stuff," akin to the conspiracy theories on Jones' Infowars. "People want fame," said Trump of the accusers. "They want money."

When pressed by the reporter, CBS News' Weijia Jiang, who pointed out that he hadn't allowed her to get to her question, Trump said "you've been asking a question for 10 minutes. Please sit down." Watch the moment below, via Fox News. Summer Meza

September 19, 2018

As President Trump was leaving a Sept. 12 Congressional Medal of Honor Society event in the White House, Epoch Times photojournalist Samira Bouaou broke protocol by entering a restricted area and handing Trump a purple folder. "Trump accepted the folder and appeared to open it briefly as he departed before quickly shutting it," The Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing several news photographers who witnessed the event. "It was not clear what was inside the folder. Photographers who asked Bouaou afterward why she did it and what the folder contained said she declined to provide details."

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has discussed Bouaou's folder situation with the White House Correspondents' Association executive board, and the White House has reviewed the incident, but nobody will say anything about it on the record. One White House official told the Post that the matter has been "dealt with." Bouaou, who had recently received a Secret Service pass to attend White House briefings and other events, has not been seen at the White House since the encounter, other photographers say.

The Epoch Times, launched in New York in 2000 by a group of Chinese Americans, is believed to have close ties to the Falun Gong spiritual group, an affiliation the newspaper denies. Falun Gong and the Epoch Times are both banned in China. Ming Xia, a political science professor at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, tells the Post that the newspaper's part-time journalists "support the Falun Gong because they are Falun Gong practitioners. ... They are not professional journalists and they do not follow the protocols professional journalists abide by. That's how they can be very pushy and aggressive." Xia said the Falun Gong is eager to exploit Trump's hardline stance on Beijing. Peter Weber

August 31, 2018

If you are a reader of President Trump's Twitter feed or a viewer of Sean Hannity's Fox News show, you will know their names: Andrew McCabe, Lisa Page, Peter Strzok, and now Trump's newest bête noire, Bruce Ohr. "How the hell is Bruce Ohr still employed at the Justice Department?" Trump tweeted on Wednesday. "Disgraceful! Witch Hunt!" It turns out, Natasha Bertrand reports at The Atlantic, these (mostly) former FBI and Justice Department officials all have "extensive experience in probing money laundering and organized crime, particularly as they pertain to Russia."

Ohr is a "career Justice Department official who spent years investigating Russian organized crime and corruption," and Trump's escalating attacks on him (and his wife) could fairly "be interpreted as an attack on someone with deep knowledge of the shady characters Trump and his cohort have been linked to," Bertrand says, including Russian magnate Oleg Deripaska, whom Ohr was instrumental in banning from the U.S. in 2006 "due to his alleged ties to organized crime and fear that he would try to launder money into American real estate."

McCabe, who Trump's FBI fired in March, "spent more than a decade investigating Russian organized crime and served as a supervisory special agent of a task force that scrutinized Eurasian crime syndicates," Bertrand reports. Page, who resigned from the FBI in May after her private text messages with Strzok were made public, was "a trial attorney in the Justice Department's organized-crime section whose cases centered on international organized crime and money laundering," and Strzok, fired earlier this month, was "a Russian counterintelligence expert."

Trump "throwing U.S. intelligence officials under the bus, has, conveniently for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, persisted in making a spectacle of some of the Kremlin's biggest adversaries in the U.S. government," Bertrand says. You can read more about Trump's domestic targets and documented ties to Russian mobsters and oligarchs at The Atlantic. Peter Weber

August 22, 2018

Forget for a moment that President Trump is using his Twitter platform to highlight the struggles of white farmers in South Africa ("Translation: Make Apartheid Great Again #MAGA," as one wag on Twitter put it), and marvel that the president of the United States asked the U.S. secretary of state on Wednesday night to devote his energies to investigating something he saw on Tucker Carlson's Fox News show.

Trump could have called up Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and asked him about South African farm policy in private, of course, or asked the CIA or U.S. AID or any number of agencies that report to him if Carlson's segment was accurate and, if so, what the U.S. is already doing about it. And he might have done that, too, theoretically. But probably not.

"Will Trump try anything in the foreign policy realm to distract from his legal woes?" Daniel Drezner asked at The Washington Post on Wednesday morning, explaining why "wag the dog" tactics are rarely used by normal presidents. "Trump being an anomalous type of leader would probably mean more anomalous types of diversionary foreign policy," he said, suggesting that Trump might try to change the conversation away from Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort's federal criminal convictions with "a ratcheting up of the trade wars with our European allies, more summitry with enduring rival heads of state, and a further pushing of foreign policies that polarize at home." So far, no jacked-up tariffs on Britain or summit with Iran's Ali Khamenei, but Drezner can at least check "white nationalist talking points about 'white genocide'" off his list. Peter Weber

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