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March 20, 2017

The House Intelligence Committee is holding a rare public hearing on Monday, with FBI Director James Comey and NSA chief Adm. Mike Rogers expected to face questions about Russia's involvement in the U.S. election, any ties between Russia and President Trump's campaign, who leaked information to the media about Trump aides' communications with Russia, and whether there is any evidence to back up Trump's claim that former President Barack Obama had his Trump Tower phones wiretapped. Comey is expected to say there is no evidence Trump's phones were tapped, but nobody is sure what other questions he will answer. Rogers is predicted to say less than Comey.

Democrats are most eager to discuss any Russian role in the election and any connections between Trump and the Kremlin, while Republicans are focused on who has been disclosing potentially classified information about Trump team members. Comey briefed lawmakers on Friday about the state of the Russian investigation and Trump's wiretapping accusations (he said no about Trump and wiretapping, and "it was a categorical denial," a U.S. official tells The Washington Post). What he told House Intelligence Committee members about Trump and Russia is apparently still up for debate.

On Fox New Sunday, committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said he has seen "no evidence of collusion" between Trump's circles and Russia to sway the election his way. But on NBC's Meet the Press, ranking Democrat Adam Schiff (Calif.) said there is already "circumstantial evidence of collusion" and "direct evidence" of "deception" by the Trump campaign, and "there is certainly enough for us to conduct an investigation."

Regarding Trump's wiretapping allegations, "I hope that we can put an end to this wild goose chase, because what the president said was just patently false," Schiff said. "It's continuing to grow in terms of damage, and he needs to put an end to this." Peter Weber

8:21 a.m. ET
Dave Thompson/Getty Images

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the explosion at a Manchester Ariana Grande concert that killed at least 22 and injured dozens of others, The Associated Press and SITE Intelligence Group report. A statement from the terrorist group claims the attack was "in response to their transgressions against the lands of the Muslims."

Chief Constable Ian Hopkins of the Greater Manchester Police said that the deadly explosion was likely caused by one man who used an "improvised explosive device" and died in the blast. Local police have additionally confirmed the arrest of a 23-year-old man in south Manchester in connection with the attack.

A former intelligence officer told BuzzFeed News that it is "highly unlikely" such an attack could be carried out by a single terrorist. "Explosives are sophisticated and prone to failing, so whoever prepared the device knew what they were doing," the former intelligence officer said. Jeva Lange

8:06 a.m. ET
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Sean Hannity's colleagues at Fox News are growing increasingly irritated and embarrassed that the host is continuing to promote conspiracy theories about the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

"ARE WE STILL AIRING THAT S---?!" wrote one Fox News political reporter when The Daily Beast asked for a comment. Washington, D.C., police say Rich was likely killed in a botched attempted robbery, although Hannity has promoted the discredited theory that Rich was mysteriously killed after allegedly being in touch with WikiLeaks.

Rich's family has denied the conspiracies and begged internet sleuths and Hannity to stop spreading the unfounded theories, which they say injure "the memory and reputation of Seth Rich and have defamed and injured the reputation and standing of the members of the family." The family additionally said Hannity has not reached out to them.

"I'm disgusted by it," one Fox News employee told CNN's Oliver Darcy. Another said the conspiracy "drags the rest of us down," while a third suggested Hannity is focused on the Seth Rich story in order to distract from President Trump's ongoing scandals.

"It hurts those of us who are legitimately focused on journalism," one employee said. "We have a chance to turn the corner at Fox, and perpetuating this conspiracy theory damages our integrity." Jeva Lange

7:59 a.m. ET

Stephen Colbert welcomed MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Monday night's Late Show by noting that all of a sudden, she is the No. 1 star of cable news. She pointed to her unusual format. "I definitely feel like the most important thing that I can do right now is just try to explain stuff," she said. Colbert asked her what she thinks of Trump's trip abroad so far, and she started by laughing at this moment right after he arrived in Israel from Saudi Arabia:

"Presidential trips can go either way when there's a president in a time of crisis," Maddow said, noting that when Richard Nixon was fighting the release of his Watergate tapes, he took a trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel, too. Colbert pointed out that Trump has been quiet on Twitter since he left the U.S. Maddow shrugged. Trump doesn't get to make his own news anymore, she said. Now, "the news of the Trump administration is the news of people investigating it and figuring out what's really going on."

Colbert asked Maddow if Trump could be right, that this really is a "witch hunt." She was skeptical. "It's possible it was totally anodyne, that it had nothing to do with the Russian attack on the election that was happening at that same time, it's possible there was nothing nefarious about it at all," she said, but at this point it's up to the Trump White House to explain all the mysterious contacts with Kremlin officials and why Trump's attempts to end the FBI investigation wasn't obstruction of justice.

Is there any chance Republicans would impeach Trump, or would he only face justice if Democrats win Congress in 2018? Colbert asked. "I try not to see it in partisan terms," Maddow said. If it is proved that Trump tried to quash an investigation into his campaign, "it is hard for me to believe that Republicans would not rise above their party in that instance." Colbert wasn't convinced. "My worry is that Donald Trump will just degrade everyone's standards and morals as we pick sides," he said, citing examples. "We're going to have to decide if we're that country or not," Maddow said. "And I think we're not." Watch below. Peter Weber

7:36 a.m. ET
Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Monday that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn could be held in contempt after his lawyers said he will plead the Fifth and refuse to comply with the committee's subpoena, Politico reports. "It does us no good to have people insist on pleading the Fifth if you're out trying to get information. The only thing I can tell you is immunity is off the table," Burr said, adding that "all I've asked him for is documents. I don't know how you can plead the Fifth on a document request."

Other Republicans are hesitant to fall in line behind Burr, with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) saying "you can't criticize anybody for invoking a constitutional right."

"The subpoena needs to be enforced, and hopefully it will be," a noncommittal Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) added.

Flynn's lawyers have cited "escalating public frenzy against him" as his reason for refusing to honor the subpoena. Flynn is at the heart of the ongoing investigation into ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia. Jeva Lange

6:37 a.m. ET
Fadi Arouri/AFP/Getty Images

Well, crazier things have happened. On a visit to Bethlehem, in the West Bank, on Tuesday, President Trump told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that he is "committed to trying to achieve a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians," adding: "And I intend to do everything I can to help them achieve that goal. I look forward to working with these leaders for lasting peace." Such an agreement, long sought by American presidents, could "begin a process of peace all throughout the Middle East," he said. Abbas welcomed Trump's "noble and possible mission," and said he is eager to "keep the door open to dialogue with our Israeli neighbors," while reiterating the Palestinian demands, including a capital in East Jerusalem.

Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, Trump was similarly upbeat. He said he saw a new willingness among Sunni Muslim leaders gathered in Saudi Arabia to view Iran as more of a threat than Israel. "There's a great feeling for peace throughout the world," Trump said. "I've seen such a different feeling toward Israel from countries that, as you know, were not feeling so well about Israel." Netanyahu welcomed Trump's push for peace. "I also look forward to working closely with you to advance peace in our region, because you have noted so succinctly that common dangers are turning former enemies into partners," he said. "It won't be simple. But for the first time in many years — and, Mr. President, for the first time in my lifetime — I see a real hope for change."

The Trump White House says it is trying new approaches to brokering a peace deal that has eluded numerous predecessors, and Trump has given the task to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and a former Trump organization lawyer, Jason Greenblatt. Middle East experts note that the same old issues are preventing an agreement, including mistrust between Abbas and Netanyahu and their own citizens, territorial disputes, and the right of Palestinian return. During his visit to Bethlehem, Palestinian protesters were clashing with Israeli security forces.

After his trip to the West Bank, Trump has a brief stop planned at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum then a speech elsewhere in Jerusalem. He leaves for Rome later Tuesday for a meeting with Pope Francis on Wednesday, before a NATO summit in Brussels and a G7 summit in Sicily. Peter Weber

4:47 a.m. ET

At a news conference in Bethlehem on Tuesday morning, President Trump joined the chorus of world leaders offering condolences to Britain over the presumed terrorist attack by a lone suicide bomber at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester on Monday night, which killed at least 22 people, including children, and wounded at least 59 more, according to police. "We stand in absolute solidarity with the people of the United Kingdom," Trump said, adding that the dead were "murdered by evil losers in life." The ideology of those responsible must be "obliterated," he added. British police have not released any information yet about the man they say detonated an "improvised explosive device" at the end of the concert.

In a statement, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the attack "incomprehensible" and said it "will only strengthen our determination to keep acting together with our British friends against those who plan and carry out such inhuman deeds." France's president also offered sympathy, solidarity, and aid. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Europe mourns with Britain today and will help it "fight back against those who seek to destroy our way of life," adding, "It breaks my heart to think that, once again, terrorism has sought to instill fear where there should be joy, to sow division where young people and families should be coming together in celebration."

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called the explosion at a concert primarily for teenage girls a "brutal attack on young people everywhere." He added, "This incident, this attack, is especially vile, especially criminal, especially horrific because it appears to have been deliberately directed at teenagers." Peter Weber

4:14 a.m. ET

President Trump is out of the country, and Stephen Colbert said that gave him a little extra pep in his step. "By the way, federal judges, now would be a good time to reinstate that travel ban," he said on Monday's Late Show. "He'll be flying in from a dangerous part of the world, he's said some radical stuff, I'm just saying. 'Extreme vetting,' that's all I'm asking for."

Colbert started with Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia, including the many similarities between what Trump criticized former President Barack Obama over and what he himself did — Obama bowed to accept a gold medallion, for example, and Trump threw in a curtsy. "It doesn't matter, you gotta bow to get the thing around your neck," Colbert said. "But it is kind of a dirty trick by the Saudi king. First of all, he's short. Second, he holds the medal down here."

Trump also gamely participated in a traditional sword dance, but "but not everyone looked that comfortable at the party," Colbert said. "Here's Steve Bannon realizing these aren't the kind of men in white robes he's used to." And of course he touched on the odd image of Trump and the Saudi king touching a glowing orb. "Fellas, if I may, you need to work on your not-looking-like-supervillain skills," he said. Finally, Colbert laughed a little darkly at Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' wonder that there were no anti-Trump protests in Saudi Arabia, given what Saudi Arabia does to protesters.

Trump flew to Israel on Monday, and his plans include a big push for, according to a real White House press release, "lasting peach" between Israel and the Palestinians. "Yes, lasting peach," Colbert said. "And I think this one's really going to resonate with the American people, because Americans really want something with peach in it — peach ice cream, peach cobbler, impeach, anything with peach." In Israel, Trump also inadvertently admitted he passed classified secrets from Israel to the Russians, and visited the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism. "Nice wall," Colbert said, in Trump voice. "How did you get Mexico to pay for it?" He ended with a "Donald Trump palate-cleanser," involving a girl and a sea lion.

If you wanted to end on a Trump note, here are some imaginary, cheeky post cards from Trump's travels. Peter Weber

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