McConnell, asked whether he believes Trump's denial of campaign aides' contact with Russia: 'I have no idea'
When asked at a press conference Friday whether he believed President Trump's claim that to his knowledge, "nobody" from his campaign has been in contact with Russia, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not offer a particularly heartening answer:
Reporter: Do you believe Trump when he says no one from his campaign had contact with Russian officials?
McConnell: "I have no idea" pic.twitter.com/45VzwIeldp
— Colin Jones (@colinjones) February 17, 2017
Uncertainties about Russia aside, McConnell said he is pretty pleased with Trump so far — except for one thing. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets. What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing," McConnell said.
McConnell applauded Trump's Cabinet as "the most conservative" he'd seen in his time in office and railed against "left-wing agitators" for delaying the confirmation of Trump's nominees. "Did you all notice that the Democratic leader voted against the secretary of transportation?" McConnell said, referring to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's (D-N.Y.) vote against McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, in her confirmation vote for transportation secretary. McConnell said he'd hope that "at some point here the other side will accept the results of last year's election."
But when the topic of Trump came up again, McConnell suddenly had less to say. Asked about Trump's bombastic, 76-minute press conference Thursday, McConnell simply said he didn't "have any observation about that." Becca Stanek
On Friday, The Washington Post published an extraordinary, comprehensive report of the Obama administration's actions in the face of mounting evidence that Russia severely affected the U.S. presidential election last year. "It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend," one senior Obama administration official confessed.
1. The initial August 2016 intelligence report that linked Putin directly to a cyber campaign to throw off the U.S. election was intensely secretive:
The material was so sensitive that CIA Director John Brennan kept it out of the President's Daily Brief, concerned that even that restricted report's distribution was too broad. The CIA package came with instructions that it be returned immediately after it was read. To guard against leaks, subsequent meetings in the Situation Room followed the same protocols as planning sessions for the Osama bin Laden raid. [The Washington Post]
2. Obama's most severe response to the hacking hinged on hidden cyber "bombs":
Obama ... approved a previously undisclosed covert measure that authorized planting cyber weapons in Russia's infrastructure, the digital equivalent of bombs that could be detonated if the United States found itself in an escalating exchange with Moscow. The project ... was still in its planning stages when Obama left office. It would be up to President Trump to decide whether to use the capability. [The Washington Post]
3. When eventually told about the hack, key congressional Democrats and Republicans split on how to react:
"The Dems were, 'Hey, we have to tell the public,'" recalled one participant. But Republicans resisted, arguing that to warn the public that the election was under attack would further Russia's aim of sapping confidence in the system. [The Washington Post]
4. The assumption that Hillary Clinton would win the election dulled the administration's response:
"Our primary interest in August, September, and October was to prevent [Russia] from doing the max they could do," said a senior administration official. "We made the judgment that we had ample time after the election, regardless of outcome, for punitive measures."
The assumption that [Hillary] Clinton would win contributed to the lack of urgency. [The Washington Post]
5. Russia is on the verge of getting away with everything:
In political terms, Russia's interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy [...] And yet, because of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences. [The Washington Post]
On Friday, Fox & Friends aired the first televised, in-person interview President Trump has given in six weeks. In it, Trump praised progress on health care, claiming that "I've done in five months what other people haven't done in years," and blamed the Obama administration's "unmasking and surveillance" for his threat to former FBI Director James Comey about tapes of their conversations.
"My story didn't change," said Trump, who confessed Thursday he had no tapes. "My story was always a straight story. My story was always the truth."
Trump also blasted Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is heading the investigation of Russia's election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump team, for being "very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome."
Trump added: "We're going to have to see ... but [there has] been no collusion, no obstruction, and virtually everybody agrees to that." Watch some of the interview below. Jeva Lange
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) June 23, 2017
The way Senate Republicans kept a tight lid on their health-care plan reminded The Daily Show's Trevor Noah of a very famous company that also likes to keep things under wraps — Apple.
It almost felt like the "launching of a new iPhone," Noah said Thursday night. "No one knew, there were leaks, we weren't quite sure. And just like Apple, today the Republicans sent out their own turtlenecked leader to reveal the bill." That would be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who led Republicans in closed door sessions to craft the bill. The way Noah sees it, Republicans decided the right thing to do was "cut Americans' health care so we can give people tax cuts," but that's "not the point. It's like a fireman running into a burning building and saving the fire, not the baby."
The bill largely mirrors the hugely unpopular House bill, although with "dramatically deeper" cuts to Medicare. Because it takes trillions of dollars away from health care to fund tax cuts for the rich, Republicans are "taking a big chance with this bill," Noah said. It will be felt by people in every single state, including millions who voted for President Trump, and it should be easy for the Democrats to fight this, "but unfortunately, they're the Democrats," Noah said, before rolling a clip of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) dorkily trying to convey a message. Watch the video below. Catherine Garcia
Brian Kelly is a resourceful 5-year-old — when his father, Dan, was deployed overseas in May, he started going next door and asking his neighbor, Dean Cravens, if he would join him in doing some of the same things he used to do with his dad.
The Kellys moved to their home in Belleville, Illinois, last July, and Brian and Dan loved doing yardwork together. At first, that's what Brian wanted to do with Cravens. "I thought, 'Well, let's do other things, too,' so we play catch, we'll be shooting the ball, working on my golf swing," Cravens told Good Morning America. He is the father of three daughters, and said he's been enjoying having a boy around, adding, "It's different."
Brian's mom, Barbara, told GMA she cannot communicate with her husband while he is overseas, but she's sure he'd be thrilled to know about his son's new friendship. "If that was me, I would be happy that my child is smiling and has someone to look up to and be there for them until I get back," she said. "When Dan gets back, Brian's going to cry and run to him with open arms." Catherine Garcia
The health-care bill drafted by Senate Republicans finally emerged from behind closed doors on Thursday, and with its cuts to Medicaid to fund tax cuts for the rich, the plan is "breathtakingly cruel," Seth Meyers said.
On Thursday's Late Night, Meyers took a closer look at the bill, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to have a vote on as early as next week, despite the fact that it was crafted during secretive meetings that were only open to a select group of Republicans. McConnell was "basically writing it by himself behind closed doors and nobody is ever doing anything good behind closed doors," Meyers said. "If your teenage son was locked in his bedroom this long, you wouldn't say, 'Hey buddy, are you doing extra credit homework in there?'"
Even people who were supposed to be writing the bill with McConnell were left in the dark; Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) was a member of the working group that was tasked with putting the plan together, but he said in a video earlier this week that he couldn't answer questions from constituents about it because he hadn't seen the bill yet. "Wait, you're supposed to be writing it and you haven't seen it?" Meyers exclaimed. "That's like your doctor saying, 'I think your liver transplant was successful, but I don't know, I was at the movies.'"
Meyers also noted how interesting it was that back when ObamaCare was coming together, there were more than 100 hearings and months of debates, but McConnell complained every step of the way, saying things were moving too fast and nothing was transparent. He shared a medley of McConnell's greatest hypocritical hits from 2009 and 2010, and it's almost as if McConnell's accusations against the Democrats and ObamaCare were actually predictions of what he would be doing in 2017 — he said, among other things, that "the bill we're being asked to consider was assembled behind closed doors out of sight without input from the public" and "they're doing everything they can to jam this bill through, and they don't even seem to care anymore about how ugly it all looks." Oh, how times have changed. Watch the video below. Catherine Garcia
Acting as mediator, Kuwait has given Qatar a list of 13 different demands from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries that it must comply with in order to restore diplomatic ties, The Associated Press reports.
Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates severed ties with Qatar, alleging the country funds terrorism. They are giving Qatar 10 days to, among other things, pay an unspecified amount in compensation; stop naturalizing citizens from the four countries and expel those living in Qatar; shut down diplomatic posts in Iran; cut all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah; close down a Turkish military base inside the country; and shutter the broadcaster Al Jazeera, which Saudi Arabia and the other countries claim supports the Muslim Brotherhood and incites unrest in the Middle East.
Qatar's government has not yet responded to the demands. If they meet them all, the country will be audited once a month for a year, then once per quarter for another year, and then annually for 10 years, AP reports. Catherine Garcia
Just a few days before he was fired after refusing to resign, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara wrote a memo sharing his concerns about a phone call he received from the White House, BuzzFeed News reports.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, BuzzFeed was able to get an email on Thursday that Bharara sent on March 9 to then-deputy Attorney Joon Kim and Bharara's chief counsel, Joan Loughnane, in order to "memorialize certain events of the day." Bharara said he received a voicemail from Trump's secretary, Madeline Westerhout, asking him to call her back. He checked with Kim about the "propriety of returning the call," and reviewed copies of memos related to communications with the White House. He also spoke with Attorney General Jeff Sessions' chief of staff, Jody Hunt, to discuss the request. Bharara decided it was inappropriate to speak with Trump and called Westerhout to tell her this. The next day, he was asked to resign, and after refusing, was fired on March 11.
Parts of the email were redacted, specifically the sections that revealed details pertaining to "intra-agency communications," BuzzFeed reports. In an interview on This Week earlier this month, Bharara said it appeared Trump was "trying to cultivate some kind of relationship," and it is a "very weird and peculiar thing for a one-on-one conversation without the attorney general, without warning between the president and me or any United States attorney who has been asked to investigate various things and is in a position hypothetically to investigate business interests and associates of the president." Catherine Garcia