×
FOLLOW THE WEEK ON FACEBOOK
February 13, 2018
Maxim Shipenkov/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S.-Israeli relationship hit a rare rocky patch under President Trump on Monday when the U.S. flatly denied Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's assertion that he had been discussing annexing part of the West Bank with the Trump administration "for some time now." The White House apparently privately demanded and publicly received a walking-back of that claim, which Netanyahu aides said the prime minister made in a meeting with a faction of his Likud party. "The United States and Israel have never discussed such a proposal, and the president's focus remains squarely on his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative," White House spokesman Josh Raffel said.

Trump's Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, spearheaded by son-in-law Jared Kushner and envoy Jason Greenblatt, is stalled after Trump announced U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, prompting the Palestinian Authority to disengage. Now, Trump appears to have added a new Mideast peace envoy: Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In Moscow on Monday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated to Putin that "from now on we refuse to cooperate in any form with the U.S. in its status of a mediator, as we stand against its actions." Putin told Abbas that he had "just spoken over the phone" with Trump, and "naturally, we spoke about the Palestinian-Israeli settlement," according to Russia's official TASS news agency. "I would like to convey to you his best wishes," Putin told Abbas. Abbas said the Palestinians would be willing to participate in an international peace conference in which the U.S. was just one player, along with Russia, the European Union, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Arab states. Peter Weber

11:35 a.m. ET

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) will vote to confirm Mike Pompeo for secretary of state, he announced Monday morning. Manchin, a moderate senator from a red state, had been pegged as a likely cross-aisle vote for Pompeo.

President Trump tapped Pompeo last month to replace the ousted Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to vote on Pompeo's nomination later Monday, where it is possible he will fail to receive a positive recommendation; Republican Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) has already announced his opposition to Pompeo given Pompeo's hawkishness, and no committee Democrats support Pompeo.

Still, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will likely proceed to a full Senate vote on Pompeo's nomination later this week. Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) already announced her intention to support Pompeo, and her vote alongside Manchin's should be enough to overcome any Republican defections and propel Pompeo to the State Department. Kimberly Alters

11:27 a.m. ET
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Linus Phillip was killed by police in Largo, Florida, in March after he attempted to drive away from officers who wanted to search his car at a gas station because they said they smelled marijuana. The officers involved in the fatal shooting will not be prosecuted, but the Largo police are continuing a controversial post-mortem investigation on Phillip.

Two officers went unannounced to the funeral home where Phillip's body was located and used his finger in an attempt to unlock his cell phone. They did not notify his family in advance, nor did they obtain a warrant.

The Supreme Court has held that police cannot search a cell phone without a warrant, but the situation is legally complicated when the phone's owner is dead. "While the deceased person doesn't have a vested interest in the remains of their body, the family sure does, so it really doesn't pass the smell test," Charles Rose, a Stetson University law professor, told the Tampa Bay Times. "This is one of those set of factors that walks on the edge of every issue."

Phillip's fiancée, Victoria Armstrong, happened to be at the funeral home when the detectives arrived. "I just felt so disrespected and violated," she said of their surprise appearance. Armstrong has called for further investigation of Phillip's death, particularly because the police have reported differing quantities of drugs they say were in his vehicle. "There's so many parts of the case that still aren't adding up," she said to the Tampa Bay Times. "I just want the truth." Bonnie Kristian

10:56 a.m. ET
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

The demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea is less than 3 miles wide, and for decades, both sides have used that short distance to blast propaganda across the border. But to set the stage for a historic meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in later this week, South Korea on Monday turned off its speakers.

"The Ministry of National Defense halted the loudspeaker broadcasts against North Korea in the vicinity of the military demarcation line," Seoul said in a statement, with a goal of "reducing military tensions between the South and North and creating a mood for peaceful talks." In response, North Korea's weaker loudspeakers also began shutting down.

While Pyongyang tends to favor propaganda of a more traditional nature, South Korea in recent years has played peppy K-pop music, weather reports, and news that won't be reported under the Kim regime, like the survival of a North Korean soldier who was shot while he defected to the South. Bonnie Kristian

10:24 a.m. ET
YURY MARTYANOV/AFP/Getty Images

Neither Special Counsel Robert Mueller nor anyone on his team has been in touch with Natalia Veselnitskaya, she told The Associated Press for a report published Monday. Veselnitskaya is the Russian lawyer who in June 2016 met with Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump campaign officials who believed she had dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Veselnitskaya has spoken with investigators for the Senate Intelligence Committee's separate probe into Russian election meddling efforts. They interviewed her in a hotel in Berlin, Germany, for three hours in March. "That was essentially a monologue. They were not interrupting me," she said. "They listened very carefully. ... Their questions were very sharp, pin-pointed."

But the Mueller investigation, she says, has not contacted her despite her willingness to talk. "I'm ready to explain things that may seem odd to you or maybe you have suspicions," Veselnitskaya told Mueller via AP, suggesting that if he does not interview her, he "is not working to discover the truth." Bonnie Kristian

10:18 a.m. ET
David Burnett/Newsmakers

Former military officials are "deeply troubled" by President Trump's pick for CIA director, Gina Haspel.

More than 100 retired generals and officers wrote a letter Monday that urged senators to investigate Haspel more closely before voting on her nomination. Under the Bush administration, Haspel was involved in an "enhanced interrogation" program that included waterboarding, and she has been criticized by lawmakers for pushing to destroy tapes that held evidence of the torture.

"We do not accept efforts to excuse her actions relating to torture and other unlawful abuse of detainees by offering that she was 'just following orders,' or that shock from the 9/11 terrorist attacks should excuse illegal and unethical conduct," reads the letter, posted on Human Rights First. "We did not accept the 'just following orders' justification after World War II, and we should not accept it now."

Haspel, who is currently the deputy director of the CIA, will face a confirmation hearing next month. Trump tapped her to replace Mike Pompeo, who is facing his own confirmation fight to become the next secretary of state.

Lawmakers like Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) have vocally opposed Haspel's nomination, but CIA officials have backed her up: The Hill reports that the CIA released a memo Friday that said Haspel had "acted appropriately" in authorizing the destruction of the tapes. Summer Meza

10:06 a.m. ET
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

President Trump's new national security adviser, John Bolton, for years chaired the Gatestone Institute, a nonprofit advocacy group that published sensational and false anti-immigrant stories and fretted over a "great white death" in Europe, NBC News reports. Certain Islamophobic or anti-immigrant Gatestone stories were also picked up and circulated by Russian trolls, with Brookings Institution fellow Alina Polyakova explaining, "We see this kind of pattern emerge where a website puts up something, it looks like a news story, then bots and trolls amplify it."

Many articles published by Gatestone were intended to stoke fear, with one story claiming the German government was "confiscating homes to use for migrants" while in truth the city of Hamburg ordered the owner of six unused rental properties to renovate and list them. Tania Roettger, a journalist for Germany's Correctiv, emphasized the story as an example of how "Gatestone was known for disseminating false information."

While Bolton did not appear to personally write any of the concerning articles, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the adviser's ties to Gatestone are "very disturbing" seeing as he is "in one of the most powerful positions on the planet." Read the entire investigation at NBC News. Jeva Lange

9:20 a.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Republicans are hopeful about the chances of CIA Director Mike Pompeo getting confirmed as secretary of state later this week, although he does not appear likely to get a favorable recommendation from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when it votes Monday, NPR reports. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has been a vocal "no," and no Democrats on the panel support Pompeo's nomination. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can still push Pompeo's nomination to a full Senate vote, though it would be unprecedented.

In the full Senate vote, there is still a chance Pompeo might not get confirmed due to the narrow 51-49 Republican majority. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) remains on the fence, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is absent. As Axios notes: "If Paul and Flake vote no, [Republicans will] need two red state Democrats to vote yes." Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) is already on board and Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) are expected to also potentially swing.

President Trump expressed his frustration Monday morning on Twitter, writing: "Hard to believe Obstructionists May vote against Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State. The Dems will not approve hundreds of good people, including the Ambassador to Germany. They are maxing out the time on approval process for all, never happened before. Need more Republicans!"

Pompeo was confirmed as CIA director last year by the Senate in a 66-32 vote. Jeva Lange

See More Speed Reads