The ongoing probe into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign has reportedly identified a current White House official as "a significant person of interest," The Washington Post reports. The individual was described by people familiar with the matter as being "someone close to the president," although the sources declined to name names.
So far, President Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, have been the public centers of the investigation. Neither is a part of the current administration. "Current administration officials who have acknowledged contacts with Russian officials include Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as Cabinet members Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson," the Post writes.
Kushner, for one, was a "prominent voice advocating Comey's firing," CBS writes. On Friday, The New York Times reported that Trump told Russian officials he had fired Comey in order to ease the pressure of the ongoing probe.
The White House also has acknowledged that Kushner met with [Sergey] Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., in late November. Kushner also has acknowledged that he met with the head of a Russian development bank, Vnesheconombank, which has been under U.S. sanctions since July 2014. The president's son-in-law initially omitted contacts with foreign leaders from a national security questionnaire, though his lawyer has said publicly he submitted the form prematurely and informed the FBI soon after he would provide an update.
Vnesheconombank handles development for the state, and in early 2015, a man purporting to be one of its New York-based employees was arrested and accused of being an unregistered spy. [The Washington Post]
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told the Post that "as the president has stated before, a thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity."
The Washington Post adds that "people familiar with the matter said investigators on the case are more focused on Russian influence operations and possible financial crimes" and that "the probe has sharpened into something more fraught for the White House, the FBI, and the Justice Department — particularly because of the public steps investigators know they now need to take." Read the full scoop at The Washington Post. Jeva Lange
Some people have trouble recognizing today's United States, "but for some residents of New Jersey, the united state they thought they knew might never have existed at all," Stephen Colbert said Thursday night. "So tonight, The Late Show takes a look at a small civil war between the north, the south, and the — the middle part."
New Jersey lived steadily if unhappily between its two warring factions, North Jersey and South Jersey, for 250 years, until new Gov. Phil Murphy (D) roiled the state by introducing the concept of Central Jersey. Colbert interviewed Murphy, who claims to be from this "mystical kingdom" of Central Jersey, but he was no help in settling the question. So Colbert turned to "the chief justice of the Garden State," Jon Stewart, who rendered his definitive judgment — and also shared some other opinions about the region. Watch below. Peter Weber
Stephen Colbert questions Melania Trump's very tone-deaf jacket, Scott Pruitt's $1,600 'tactical pants'
President Trump's "pro-baby snatching agenda" story "took another weird turn" Thursday when the White House sent its "most high-profile detainee, Melania Trump," to visit child detention centers in Texas, Stephen Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show. "When I heard that she was doing this, I thought, 'Okay, this is what first ladies often do.' You know, you go to a troubled area, they see the children, they show that we care — you can't mess that up. Guess what? I spoke too soon." Colbert said he initially assumed the photos had to be fakes, but no, "on her way to show that she cares, Melania wore a jacket that says: 'I REALLY DON'T CARE, DO U?' That's what they settled on? What was her first choice, a jacket that says 'WOMP WOMP'?"
The first lady's spokeswoman said "there was no hidden message" on the jacket, and Colbert agreed: "It's definitely not hidden — it's right on the back. And I'm gonna guess this is one message she did not steal from Michelle Obama." He wondered "how many people would get fired for this at a normal White House," then soberly answered the jacket's question: "We do."
Melania Trump isn't the only one in the Trump administration making questionable wardrobe choices. Among the $4.6 million in taxpayer money EPA chief Scott Pruitt has spent on security, April's expenditures include $1,600 for "tactical pants" and another $700 for "tactical polo shirts." In total, Pruitt's office spent $24,115 on tactical clothing and body armor in seven separate orders in 2018, The Intercept found, plus $88,603 on radios and accessories. If you don't know what "tactical pants" are, or why Pruitt used your money to buy eight pairs at $200 a pop, The Late Show suggests it's all about the pockets. Watch below. Peter Weber
European Union counterpunches with $3.3 billion in new U.S. tariffs, and China dials up the rhetoric
The European Union retaliated against President Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs Friday with tariffs on about $3.3 billion worth of American goods, including bourbon, orange juice, peanut butter, and motorcycles. The tariffs, mostly 25 percent, are designed in part to "make noise" by targeting politically important states like Kentucky, Florida, and Wisconsin, EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said. The EU implemented the tariffs a week earlier than expected, "a signal that the EU is striking back and taking this seriously," said economist Holger Schmieding at Berenberg Bank in London.
The EU is just region counterpunching against the Trump administration's tariffs. Turkey is targeting U.S. products and India has announced tariffs on 29 U.S. products, including steel and iron, almonds, walnuts, and chickpeas. Trump is also looking at new tariffs on auto imports, opening a new front in the trade war. The big trade conflagration, however, is with China. The U.S. will start imposing new levies on $34 billion in Chinese goods on July 6, with $16 billion to come later and then up to $400 billion more; China vows immediate tariffs on soybeans and other agricultural products. By the first week in July, $75 billion in U.S. products will be hit by new foreign tariffs, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's John Murphy.
"We've never seen anything like this," at least not since the 1930s, said Mary Lovely, an economist at Syracuse University. Trump is wagering that his tariffs will inflict more pain than they cause, forcing trade partners to capitulate. China, which has started fashioning itself as the global defender of free trade, is starting to escalate its rhetoric, too. "We oppose the act of extreme pressure and blackmail by swinging the big stick of trade protectionism," China's Commerce Ministry said Thursday. An editorial Friday in the state-run China Daily newspaper called the protectionist "trade crusade of Trump and his trade hawks" a self-defeating "symptom of paranoid delusions." Peter Weber
The Trump administration says 500 of 2,300 child migrants are reunited their parents, but confusion reigns
Of the more than 2,300 migrant children the Trump administration separated from their families since May, about 500 have been reunited with their parents, a senior Trump administration official told The Associated Press Thursday. Federal agencies are working to set up a centralized family-reunification center in Port Isabel, Texas, the official said, and it isn't clear how many of the 500 children are still being detained with their families. In fact, while President Trump says his "zero tolerance" policy remains in effect, there's widespread confusion over what that means.
In McAllen, Texas, for example, federal prosecutors unexpectedly declined to charge 17 parent immigrants on Thursday, with one saying "there was no prosecution sought" due to Trump's executive order aimed at keeping families together. West of McAllen, federal public defender Maureen Scott Franco said in a Thursday email seen by AP that going forward, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Texas "will no longer bring criminal charges against a parent or parents entering the United States if they have their child with them."
Deportees who arrived in Honduras on Thursday told Reuters that before their flight left from Texas, U.S. officials asked if any of them had children in detention, and the four who raised their hands were not put o the flight.
Reuniting families is "the ultimate goal," but "it is still very early and we are awaiting further guidance on the matter," said a spokesman for the Health and Human Services Department, which takes care of child migrants. At the same time, the Pentagon agreed Thursday to accommodate 20,000 immigrants on military bases in Texas and Arkansas, and the Trump administration went to federal court to seek permission to hold child migrants for more than 20 days, end state licensing requirements, and scrap other restrictions on detaining families. U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee, who oversees the so-called Flores settlement, rejected a similar request from the Obama administration in 2015. Peter Weber
Skye Savren-McCormick was a very important part of Hayden Hatfield Ryals' wedding, despite meeting each other for the first time just 48 hours before the big day.
Savren-McCormick, 3, lives in Ventura, California, and right before her first birthday, she was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. She needed a bone marrow transplant, and it turned out Ryals, then a 22-year-old Auburn University student, was a perfect match. Donors must remain anonymous for the first year after a transplant, and Ryals and Savren-McCormick's parents started sending letters and emails back and forth in 2017.
Ryals surprised the family when she asked Savren-McCormick to be her flower girl, but it almost didn't happen; the toddler was still on oxygen two months before Ryals' June 9 wedding. In May, the family received good news: she could go off the oxygen and received medical clearance to fly to Alabama. There, Ryals and the Savren-McCormicks met face-to-face for the first time. "I feel so connected to them, they're like family now," she said. Catherine Garcia
Is Tom Arnold filling a President Trump–shaped hole in Michael Cohen's life?
I love New York pic.twitter.com/J7AJg1HiHo
— Tom Arnold (@TomArnold) June 22, 2018
Probably not, but Arnold and Cohen, Trump's longtime personal attorney, did hang out on Thursday, and their get-together was documented on — where else? — Twitter. "I love New York," Arnold captioned the photo showing him next to a smiling Cohen. Arnold, a Trump critic, is working on a show for Vice called The Hunt for the Trump Tapes, using his show-business connections to try to find video evidence of Trump engaging in bad behavior. NBC News asked Cohen, who retweeted the photo, about the meeting, but he referred inquiries to Arnold.
There are a few links between the two — Cohen, now under investigation by federal prosecutors for his business dealings, served as Trump's fixer for years. Arnold's ex-wife, Roseanne Barr, is a vocal Trump fan, and it's a mutual thing, with Trump expressing his support for her. Maybe the latest connection will turn into a collaboration between Cohen and Arnold. Catherine Garcia
Trevor Noah devoted an appropriate amount of Thursday's Daily Show to first lady Melania Trump's bizarre "wardrobe malfunction" — about 50 seconds — and he was confused about the message Trump was sending, too "'I REALLY DON'T CARE, DO U?' Wow," he said. "It looks like when Melania was in the hospital, she had her last f--k removed." At the same time, he added, "it is kind of sweet that she made a jacket out of her and Donald's wedding vows."
"Look, we could spend forever talking about how out-of-touch this makes Melania seem, but I don't really care, do you?" Noah said, moving on to some jokes about a Phillies fan hit in the head with a hot dog. Noah also touched on Burger King's strange offer to Russia women, Argentina's shocking World Cup elimination, and the new protest the "Charlottesville Nazis" are planning to demand white civil rights. "Yeah, that's right, they're demanding better treatment for white people in America — which, I'm just gonna put it out there, is gonna make this the most successful protest march in history," he said. "It's going to be, like, 'We demand civil ri...! Oh hey, we got them. Good march everyone.'" Watch below. Peter Weber