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March 20, 2017

Last Thursday, the White House provoked a diplomatic spat with America's closest ally, Britain, when Press Secretary Sean Spicer reiterated a claim from Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano that Britain's GCHQ spy agency had wiretapped President Trump during the presidential campaign at the behest of former President Barack Obama. By Friday, Britain and the White House were sparring over whether the Trump administration had apologized for repeating the claim, and if so, how much, and Napolitano had pointed The New York Times to one of his "intelligence sources," Larry C. Johnson.

Johnson, who was a CIA analyst before leaving the government about 30 years ago, is perhaps most famous, The Times notes, for spreading "false rumors in 2008 that Michelle Obama had been videotaped using a slur against Caucasians." On CNN Sunday, he told Brian Stelter where his information had come from and said he was actually not "knowingly" a source for Napolitano, adding that the retired judge "didn't get it right, accurate either." "I'm not saying the British GCHQ was wiretapping Trump's tower," Johnson said. Napolitano "shouldn't have used the word 'wiretap.' I call it an 'information operation' that's been directed against President Trump."

Johnson explained that the day after Trump's tweets about Obama wiretapping him, he went on RT, the Kremlin-funded news channel, and talked about how "the British through GCHQ were passing information back-channel," then shared that on a discussion board for former intelligence operatives. "Apparently one of the individuals there shared that with Judge Napolitano," he said. "I don't know what his other sources are." Johnson said two people "who were in a position to know" told him about the back-channel communications, but "this was not done at the direction of Barack Obama — let's be clear about that."

Napolitano is reportedly standing by his claim, but Fox News anchor Shepard Smith noted tartly on Friday that "Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano's commentary" and "Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now-president of the United States was surveilled at any time, any way. Full stop." Peter Weber

10:30 a.m. ET

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway thinks it's a real travesty that potential public servants are getting turned off from the job because they'd have to fill out a financial disclosure form. "There are so many qualified men and women who wanted to serve this president and this administration and their country, who have been completely demoralized and completely, I think, disinclined to do so because of the paperwork that we have to put forward — divesting assets, the different hoops you have to run through," Conway said Thursday on Fox & Friends.

She hoped that the paperwork aspect of public service isn't "disincentivizing" to White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who is right now fuming that his publicly available financial disclosure form was "leaked." Conway explained that even though these documents are "eventually procurable publicly" — and were indeed reported on after the information was requested and granted — Scaramucci is threatening to get the Department of Justice and the FBI involved because he's convinced the "leaked" documents are evidence "somebody doesn't want him here." "Somebody is trying to get in his way and scare him off from working here," Conway said.

Watch it below. Becca Stanek

9:46 a.m. ET

The "leaked" financial disclosure form that White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci has threatened to go to the FBI about is actually public information. After Scaramucci steamed for hours about the fact that Politico reported details of the financial disclosure form he filed with the Office of Government Ethics and vowed to clamp down on the stream of leaks coming out of the Trump administration, Politico reporter Lorraine Woellert set the record straight:

In Woellert's piece, she revealed that Scaramucci is still able to profit from his stake in his investment firm, SkyBridge Capital, despite the fact that he joined the Export-Import Bank last month as a government employee. He's still listed on the investment firm's website as the managing director. Becca Stanek

9:10 a.m. ET

Whether you're ready or not, here comes Hillary Clinton — with a new book about the 2016 election. The book will be released Sept. 12 and will be a memoir of Clinton's time on the campaign trail.

In classic Clinton fashion, the tome's title is straightforward and unexciting, with the cover deploying a minimalist two-piece aesthetic:

You'll note that the book's title is not punctuated by a question mark, but is rather a declaration that implies the memoir will deal in past events. It does not promise to answer the question of what happened, because, well, we all know that already. Kimberly Alters

9:07 a.m. ET

President Trump's Twitter announcement Wednesday that the U.S. government will no longer "accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military" left Stephen Colbert reeling Wednesday night on The Late Show. "Why the hell would he do this? This isn't even one of his campaign promises," Colbert said.

Colbert recalled how just months ago during the presidential campaign Trump assured the LGBT population that he "will fight for you." "What the hell does he think the 'T' in LGBT stands for?" Colbert quipped. "'Trump'? 'Tomato'?"

This ban takes Trump "from crazy to cruel," Colbert said. He likened Trump's decision to fire "those 15,000 transgender troops" by tweet to "your wife divorcing you by cookie bouquet." And then, to add insult to injury, Colbert pointed out they are "being rejected by a rich guy who during Vietnam, sidestepped the draft with four deferments and a medical disqualification for bone spurs in his foot."

Trump claimed the ban was due to "tremendous medical costs," but Colbert pointed out the costs added would only be "between $2.4 million and $8.4 million per year" — five times less than what the military spends on Viagra.

Watch Colbert's brutal monologue below. Becca Stanek

8:26 a.m. ET

In a Thursday morning interview on CNN's New Day, newly minted White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci invited White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to "explain" to the press "that he's not a leaker."

The previous evening, Scaramucci tagged Priebus in a tweet declaring he would be contacting the FBI about the "leak" of his financial disclosure information, which is publicly available. But Scaramucci insisted Thursday he wasn't accusing Priebus of being a leaker, but rather suggesting the chief of staff is "responsible for understanding and uncovering" the leakers.

However, Scaramucci stopped short of defending Priebus against journalists' "assumption that it's him," instead inviting Priebus to defend himself. "He's going to need to speak for his own actions," Scaramucci said.

Scaramucci did not make any attempt to hide his potentially irreparable beef with Priebus in the wide-ranging interview, commenting that "some brothers are like Cain and Abel." "We have had odds, we have had differences," Scaramucci said. "I don't know if this is reparable or not. That will be up to the president."

One thing Scaramucci did know for sure is that he and President Trump — who authorized his CNN interview — now have "a very, very good idea of who the leakers are." Becca Stanek

7:35 a.m. ET
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

After Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) voted Tuesday against the motion to proceed to debating health care, Alaska got a call from the Trump administration. The Alaska Dispatch News reported that by Wednesday afternoon, President Trump's Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had dialed Murkowski and the state's other GOP senator, Dan Sullivan, to deliver what Sullivan described as a "troubling message."

"I'm not going to go into the details, but I fear that the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs, and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop," Sullivan said. The Alaska Dispatch News reported that "issues on the line include nominations of Alaskans to Interior posts, an effort to build a road out of King Cove through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, and future opportunities to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and expand drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska."

Sullivan told the Alaska Dispatch News that Zinke "was clear that his message was in response to the no vote Murkowski cast."

Along with the phone calls, Trump on Wednesday singled out Murkowski on Twitter for being one of two Republicans to vote against the motion. Trump tweeted at Murkowski that she'd "really let Republicans, and our country down."

Read more on the story at the Alaska Dispatch News. Becca Stanek

1:58 a.m. ET
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

President Trump will nominate Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) as ambassador at large for religious freedom, a position out of the State Department.

If confirmed by the Senate, Brownback, a social conservative, would monitor and respond to global threats to religious freedom. After the news broke on Wednesday, Brownback tweeted, "Religious Freedom is the first freedom. The choice of what you do with your own soul. I am honored to serve such an important cause."

Brownback is deeply unpopular in Kansas. He cut income taxes, but instead of jumpstarting the economy like he promised voters, the state was left with gaps in its budget, and lawmakers had to curb spending and raise taxes. Kansas Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley said in a statement Brownback's policies "have bankrupted our state and led to destroying nearly every agency of state government as well as his own political career. He is moving on not because of anything he accomplished in Kansas, but because of who he knows in Washington, D.C." Catherine Garcia

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