Trump may not attend Wednesday's odd White House briefing for senators on Korea, as tensions ratchet up
Amid U.S.-North Korean tensions so high that defense analysts warn one misstep could lead to war, all 100 senators are meeting at the White House Wednesday afternoon for a special, unusual briefing on North Korea from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, intelligence chief Dan Coats, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It isn't clear if President Trump will attend at all, though a senior administration official told CNN "if he attends — which is not determined — it will just be a brief drop-by."
The briefing was arranged by the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and several senators seem unclear why they are traveling down the street on a fleet of buses instead of meeting at the Capitol. "That meeting is a Senate meeting led by Leader McConnell, just utilizing our space," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday. "We're not there to talk strategy." A McConnell spokesman said President Trump offered the auditorium at the Eisenhower Office Building when McConnell requested a briefing. "I, frankly, don't understand why it's not easier to bring four people here than it is to take 100 there," said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine).
A U.S. nuclear submarine docked in South Korea on Tuesday, the same day North Korea conducted its largest-ever live-fire military exercises to mark the anniversary of its military founding. The USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group is headed toward the Korean peninsula, and on Wednesday, the U.S. began setting up the U.S. Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in South Korea, and is conducting a previously scheduled Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile test from California. "The real question now is somebody going to make a stupid mistake, because some kind of minor escalation could get out of hand," Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, told CNN. You can watch part of the North Korean exercises and a live report from CNN's Will Ripley in Pyongyang below. Peter Weber
Former Playboy model Karen McDougal is now free to tell the world more about her purported 10-month extramarital affair with President Trump, and Stephen Colbert took a soft pass on Thursday's Late Show. But he had some thoughts on the debacle involving a Starbucks manager and Philadelphia police arresting two black men who had not purchased anything. The encounter, captured on cellphone video, prompted an apology from the CEO and chairman of Starbucks, and the Philadelphia police.
"That is a grievous racial injustice, and if you witness anything like this, for the love of God, don't film it in portrait mode!" Colbert aid. "Film it in landscape." Police released the 911 call, and it turns out the manager called in th complaint only 2 minutes after the men walked into the Rittenhouse Square Starbucks. "That's only 2 minutes later. 'Hello, 911, I'd like to report 120 seconds of sitting while being black,'" He said. "It's astounding that Starbucks employees would be so racially insensitive — after all, I'm pretty sure their logo is Beyoncé."
But Starbucks is dealing with the issue, closing 8,000 stores for an afternoon in May to instruct employees in "racial-bias education." "8,000 stores! That's almost all the locations on this block," Colbert joked. "I just wonder what this training session is going to be like for black Starbucks employees. 'Okay, guys, let's all settle down and listen while this nice white lady from HR tells us what racism is.'"
The Late Show also imagined a scenario in which not all black Starbucks customers would be thrilled with the training session, for a pretty obvious reason. Watch below. Peter Weber
On Friday, South Korea announced that it had set up and successfully tested a hotline that connects President Moon Jae-in with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. "The historic direct telephone line between the leaders of the South and North has been connected a short while ago," said South Korean presidential official Youn Kun Young. "The test call went on for 4 minutes and 19 seconds starting at 3:41 p.m. with (officials from) both sides speaking to each other. ... The connection was smooth and the voice quality was very good. It was like calling the next door."
Moon and Kim did not participate in the test call, but they are expected to use it to converse sometime before their historic summit next week. The leaders of North and South Korea have met only twice before since the 1950-53 Korean War. Kim is also in talks to hold a summit with President Trump in early summer, and South Korean officials say Kim has shown genuine willingness to negotiate away his nuclear weapons program. Still, "North Korea for decades has been pushing a concept of 'denuclearization' that bears no resemblance to the American definition," The Associated Press notes, and it is not yet known what Kim is willing to put on the table. Peter Weber
Everybody is talking about President Trump's peace efforts with North Korea, Stephen Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show. "The president is busy preparing for the possible summit by not preparing," he said. "He's gonna wing it with a nuclear madman. That's like your surgeon going, 'We're just going to open you up and improvise.'" But if things don't go well with Kim Jong Un, Trump has an exit strategy. "What does he mean, he'll leave if the meeting is 'not fruitful'?" Colbert asked. "I mean, do either of these guys look like they know what a fruit is?"
Still, Trump may not have any plan when it comes to personal lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen, Colbert said. "Apparently, Trump and his advisers are increasingly worried that Cohen might be susceptible to cooperating with federal prosecutors. The obvious answers: Michael Cohen just pays himself $130,000 to shut up."
One of Trump's legal advisers wondered how many years in prison Cohen would have to face to flip, and Colbert found the upper range a little implausible: "Fifteen-years loyal? Michael Cohen disclosed Sean Hannity's name in court after being asked twice. He's not 5-minutes loyal. And let's just pause a moment to notice that they have jumped immediately to whether Michael Cohen will turn state's evidence against the president of the United States to avoid jail time — which everybody believes is coming for at least one of these guys. The word 'innocent' is nowhere in this conversation. Even Justice is like, 'I'm blind, but I can smell fear.'" He had some advice for Cohen, too, and it involved not fishing on Lake Tahoe. Watch below. Peter Weber
"Well, a coordinated smear campaign is underway against both Robert Mueller and James Comey, a joint effort by the president's supporters and Fox News, two groups which are increasingly indistinguishable from one another," Anderson Cooper said on CNN Thursday night. "The smear campaign includes a number of claims that are just plain false — the whole thing's frankly kind of weird, so stay with me here."
Cooper began with the quickly debunked claim by President Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski that Comey had been in charge of the FBI during the Boston Marathon bombing — a story that, when confronted, he changed to something about Boston mobster Whitey Bulger. Lewandoski was just trying to "grasp at another straw in this bale of B.S.," Cooper said, and he traced the Bulger thread back to Alan Dershowitz, who was talking about Mueller. Dershowitz walked back his Mueller claim, but "of course, by then, the genie was out of the bottle, and the president's supporters, hellbent on smearing the Russian investigation, have taken said genie and run with it," he added. "And you know what that means — enter Sean Hannity." You can watch Cooper walk through and pull down these two allegations below. Peter Weber
Putin bragged about Russian prostitutes on TV weeks before Trump told James Comey a similar anecdote
One of the more bizarre and eye-catching parts of the newly released memos former FBI Director James Comey wrote after his conversations with President Trump is a comment Trump reportedly made at a Feb. 8, 2017, meeting in the Oval Office.
"The president brought up the 'Golden Showers thing' and said it really bothered him if wife had any doubt about it," Comey recalled. "He then explained, as he did at our dinner, that he hadn't stayed overnight in Russia during the Miss Universe trip. ... The president said 'the hookers thing' is nonsense but that Putin had told him 'we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world.' He did not say when Putin had told him this."
That is a strange thing to say to an FBI director on your third-ever meeting — in their first, Comey had briefed Trump on the Russia dossier compiled by British ex-spy Christopher Steele, which included the unsubstantiated "golden showers thing" — but it is also odd because officially, Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had spoken only once, on a Jan. 28 phone call. Trump claimed to have met Putin several times between 2013 and 2016 — as CNN meticulously documents — including during a 2015 debate, though his story changed in 2016.
On Jan. 17, 2017, however, Putin said on TV: "I don't know Mr. Trump. ... I have never met him and I don't know what he will do on the international arena." And in that same speech, he made light of the Trump-prostitute allegation, saying Trump had met the most beautiful women in the world and so had no need for Moscow prostitutes, adding that "they are also the best in the world."
Comey says that on February 8, 2017, Trump told him that Putin had told him that Russia had the best hookers in the world.
On January 17, 2017, at a press conference, Putin said Russia had the best hookers in the world. pic.twitter.com/xg4XK6Uh75
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) April 20, 2018
So, maybe Putin told Trump the same thing right after his inauguration, in their first conversation, or perhaps Trump saw the quip on TV and thought it was directed at him, or Comey might have misunderstood Trump's comment. The possibilities aren't quite endless, but they are curious. Peter Weber
There was no hesitation — when Charlie Ball heard that his old high school classmate Kenneth Walker needed a kidney, he volunteered to donate if a match.
High School classmates at Archbishop Carroll 50 years ago. Today Charlie Ball(standing)is donating a kidney to Kenneth Walker. An amazing story of human generosity on abc7 and NewsChannel 8 this evening. pic.twitter.com/xS9i70lq9j
— Sam Ford (@ABC7Sam) April 16, 2018
Ball and Walker both graduated from Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C., in 1969, and while they weren't friends, Ball recognized Walker's name when he saw an email from him in his inbox. Walker, a journalist, learned when he returned to the United States from South Africa 18 months ago that he needed a kidney transplant, and tried everything to find a match. A high school friend suggested he send an email to their old classmates, and Walker figured it was worth a shot; in his email, he wrote that he completely understood if no one felt comfortable being a donor, and he was happy to at least spread awareness regarding organ donation.
Ball responded within 15 minutes with his offer. Doctors told him they usually don't accept donors over 60, but because he's in good shape, it wouldn't be an issue, and after a battery of tests, it was determined he was a match. This week, Ball and Walker underwent surgery at George Washington University Hospital, with Walker — who called this an "example of humanity" — eternally grateful for the gift of life. "I'm giving him a piece of my body," Ball told WJLA. "It's simple enough. God gave me two, I don't have to wonder why." Catherine Garcia
It took less than an hour from the Justice Department handing Congress former FBI Director James Comey's contemporaneous memos on his interactions with President Trump to The Associated Press and other news organizations starting to release excerpts of the memos, and then the entire 15-page unclassified version. This quick sharing of the documents would not have surprised Comey, apparently.
Before Congress obtained the memos, CNN's Jake Tapper asked Comey on Thursday if he thought the Justice Department was right to turn them over. "I don't know, because I don't know what considerations the department has taken into account — it's fine by me," he said. (In a letter accompany the memos, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said that after consulting "the relevant parties," the Justice Department had concluded that giving Congress the memos would not adversely affect any ongoing investigation.)
"I'm totally fine with transparency," Comey said. "I've tried to be transparent throughout this, and I think what folks will see, if they get to see the memos, is I've been consistent since the very beginning, right after my encounters with President Trump, and I'm consistent in the book and try to be transparent in the book as well."
Former FBI Director James Comey says if his memos are released to Congress, “I think what folks will see, if they get to see the memos, is that I’ve been consistent since the very beginning” https://t.co/fe3r1pfQZ0 pic.twitter.com/xZ44LJaV7B
— The Lead CNN (@TheLeadCNN) April 19, 2018
In the CNN interview, Comey also said he "definitely" doesn't hate Trump or even dislike him but "there are things he does that make me uncomfortable and I think are inappropriate," and acknowledged he may be called as a witness if federal prosecutors decide to charge his former deputy, Andrew McCabe, for allegedly lying about talking to The Wall Street Journal about a Clinton Foundation investigation. You can watch the entire interview below. Peter Weber