April 26, 2017

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

10:26 a.m. ET

On Wednesday, President Trump announced a ban on all transgender individuals from serving in the U.S. military "in any capacity." Trump said he made the decision because the military "cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail."

However, Axios' Jonathan Swan reported Wednesday that a Trump administration official offered a very different reason for the ban: the 2018 midterms. "This forces Democrats in Rust Belt states like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, to take complete ownership of this issue," the unnamed official told Swan. "How will the blue-collar voters in these states respond when senators up for re-election in 2018 ... are forced to make their opposition to this a key plank of their campaigns?"

A Rand Corp. study commissioned by the Defense Department last year concluded that allowing transgender individuals to serve in the military would have "minimal impact" on health-care costs, CNN noted, "largely because there are so few in the military's 1.3 million-member force." The study estimated the cost would range from $2.4 million to $8.4 million, which the study authors said constituted an "exceedingly small proportion" of the military's total health-care costs. Kimberly Alters

10:00 a.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski was just one of two Republican senators to vote against the motion to proceed in Tuesday's health-care vote, joined by only Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) in dissent among the majority party.

Still, the motion to proceed was approved after Vice President Mike Pence stepped in to break a 50-50 tie — which was made possible only because of Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) emotional return to Washington following a brain cancer diagnosis. McCain arrived in the chamber to cast his "aye" vote while offering a thumbs-up, but after the vote he gave a stirring speech condemning the back-room process that had birthed his party's health-care legislation in the first place.

Despite voting himself to approve the motion to proceed, however, McCain apparently approved of Murkowski's decision to dissent. In an interview Tuesday evening with Alaska Dispatch News, Murkowski said McCain told her, "You did the right thing," in a conversation after the vote. Murkowski said she had only decided to vote no during the Republican policy lunch immediately before the vote. "Believe me, I went back and forth," she said. "At the end of the day, the process really matters to me."

Murkowski offered similar comments in a statement Tuesday night, in which she said she voted against the motion to proceed to debate to "give the Senate another chance to take this to the committee process." Read more about her thoughts on the rocky health-care vote — "The tension was very real," she said — at Alaska Dispatch News. Kimberly Alters

9:51 a.m. ET

A search warrant application for the home of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, the unarmed Australian woman fatally shot by Minneapolis police after she dialed 911, suggests Officer Mohamed Noor fired his weapon because he was startled by hearing someone slap the exterior of the police cruiser.

The application mentions the alleged slap, though it does not specify whether Damond is believed to be the person who slapped the car. A slap would correspond with a statement from the other officer present, Matthew Harrity, who said he and Noor were surprised by a "loud sound." There is no body camera or dashcam footage of the shooting, because both officers' body cams were turned off.

Investigators from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) were granted permission to search Damond's house, where she lived with her fiancé in advance of their August wedding. Per court documents, no evidence was found in the home, and legal experts have questioned why the search was granted in the first place when the shooting occurred outside in the alley.

"I don't understand why they're looking for controlled substances inside her home. I don't understand why they're looking for writings inside her home. The warrant does not explain that to me," said Joseph Daly, professor emeritus at Minnesota's Mitchell Hamline School of Law. "When I read that search warrant, I really cannot find probable cause to search her home." Bonnie Kristian

9:35 a.m. ET

President Trump announced Wednesday on Twitter that he would ban all transgender individuals from serving in the U.S. military "in any capacity." The military "cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail," he wrote.

But back in June 2016, shortly after then-candidate Donald Trump had clinched enough delegates to win the Republican presidential nomination, Trump sang a decidedly different tune. Knowing he would face Hillary Clinton in the general election, Trump positioned himself to Clinton's left on certain issues — like, for example, LGBT rights:

In hindsight, it may have been helpful for a member of Trump's staff to inform him that the "T" in "LGBT" stands for "transgender." Kimberly Alters

9:29 a.m. ET
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton is, naturally, working on a new book, this one a collection of essays reflecting primarily on her loss in the 2016 election. The tome is scheduled to drop in September — it's currently listed on Amazon without final cover art as "Untitled Memoir" — and Clinton's friends are already hyping its "bombshell" revelations.

Clinton "really believes" Russian meddling and the email investigation of fired FBI Director James Comey are "why she lost, and she wants to explain why in no uncertain terms," an unnamed Clinton ally told The Hill. "She wants the whole story out there from her own perspective. I think a lot of people are going to be really surprised by how much she reveals."

This will not be the first time Clinton has publicly reflected on her loss. At a speech in May, she bounced back and forth between highlighting external factors and accepting blame herself. "Of course I take absolute personal responsibility. I was the candidate. I was the person on the ballot," Clinton said then, adding, "I was on the way to winning before a combination of [James] Comey's letter on Oct. 28 and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people inclined to vote for me but got scared off."

Other high-profile Democrats have increasingly targeted failures of messaging as their primary problem in 2016. Bonnie Kristian

9:22 a.m. ET

President Trump abruptly announced Wednesday on Twitter that the federal government "will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity." Trump said he made the decision "after consultation with my generals and military experts."

"Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail," Trump wrote.

The announcement marks a reversal of a policy instated under former President Barack Obama in 2016 that ended the ban on transgender individuals serving openly. The ban was set to be lifted July 1, but earlier this month Defense Secretary James Mattis granted a six-month delay, allowing the military until Jan. 1, 2018, to begin recruiting transgender people. Kimberly Alters

9:07 a.m. ET
RADU TUTA/AFP/Getty Images

A U.S. Navy patrol boat crew fired two rounds of warning shots at an unidentified Iranian military boat in the Persian Gulf Tuesday after the Iranian vessel moved toward the USS Thunderbolt at an unexpectedly high speed.

The Iranian boat reportedly came within 150 yards of the American ship, apparently ignoring other warnings against collision include radio calls, whistles, and flares. The Thunderbolt crew then aimed the two rounds of machine-gun fire into the water, at which point the Iranian vessel stopped its quick movements but stayed nearby for some time.

A statement from Iran's Revolutionary Guard claims it "foiled the U.S. warship's provocative move against an Iranian Navy patrol boat in the Persian Gulf." The Thunderbolt accommodates a crew of just 27 and is used for coastal surveillance and naval blockade, like the one the United States is helping Saudi Arabia enforce on Yemen. It was accompanied by three other U.S. vessels.

U.S. and Iranian ships have had similarly low-level conflict in the Gulf before, most notably in the 2016 incident in which 10 American sailors were briefly captured by Iran and then released. Bonnie Kristian

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