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May 16, 2018

On Sunday, lawyer Michael Avenatti got the ball rolling on a strange and convoluted story involving Qatari diplomats, President Trump, Michael Cohen, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Ice Cube, Stephen Bannon, and the Trump-Russia collusion dossier compiled by ex-spy Christopher Steele. Avenatti, who represents porn star Stormy Daniels, released photos showing Ahmed al-Rumaihi, a top official at Qatar's state investment fund, getting in a Trump Tower elevator on Dec. 12, 2016, with Cohen and Qatar's foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani.

Al-Rumaihi's company, Sport Trinity, confirmed to CNN that he was at the Trump Tower meetings, and Qatar's press attaché told Britain's Daily Mail on Tuesday that al Thani was there, too, to meet with Trump transition officials. Also known: The Qatari wealth fund division al-Rumaihi ran from May 2016 to March 2017 bought a 19.5 percent stake in Russian oil giant Rosneft five days before the December 2016 meeting.

Then things get murky. An unidentified Kuwaiti official told the Daily Mail that in the last week, al-Rumaihi told him that in a December 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Flynn and Cohen, "Cohen told him to send millions to various members of the Trump family." Al-Rumaihi apparently refused, but Jeff Kwatinetz, a former business partner of al-Rumaihi's in a basketball league co-owned with Ice Cube, said in a sworn deposition last week that al-Rumaihi asked him to offer a bribe from Qatar to Bannon, a friend, in January, and when Kwatinetz said no, al-Rumaihi laughed and asked, "Do you think Flynn turned down our money?" (Al-Rumaihi denies saying this.)

Also publicly unsubstantiated is a claim in the Steele dossier that in summer 2016, a Rosneft official offered the Trump campaign, via adviser Carter Page, a stake in Rosneft if future President Trump scrapped Russia sanctions, as Slate explains. Helpfully, MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell tried to tie all these strands together with Slate's Jeremy Stahl on Tuesday night, while The Atlantic's David Frum issued a note of caution. Watch below. Peter Weber

1:30 p.m.

Washington is bearing witness to, perhaps, the unlikeliest dynamic duo in recent memory.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) are certainly not of the same political ilk, but they've recently gone back and forth over social media, with each expressing a willingness to work with the other to get certain bills passed.

The two politicians are of the same opinion when it comes to banning former lawmakers from becoming lobbyists after their tenures are up, as well as the idea that birth control should be available over-the-counter. They're now trying to team up to pass legislation on both matters.

But, if you thought this was just some political ploy or feigned bipartisanship in a tumultuous era, think again. In an appearance on ABC's This Week, Ocasio-Cortez said she was "extraordinarily excited" to work with Cruz on these issues, admitting that it's a surprise to her, as well. Tim O'Donnell

1:02 p.m.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington continue to rise, especially after the latter accused the former of attacking two oil tankers with limpet mines in the Gulf of Oman last week. U.S. Central Command released a video last week claiming it shows Iranians removing a mine from one of the tankers. Iran has vehemently denied the allegations and the owner of the Japanese tanker disputed the account.

But the video is still enough evidence for some people. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) on Sunday, in an appearance on CBS' Face the Nation, told host Margaret Brennan that these "unprovoked attacks" warrant a "retaliatory military strike."

Even if Iran is behind the attacks, though, some have pointed out that a U.S. strike would make for a puzzling response, considering neither of the tankers were U.S. ships, instead hailing from Japan and Norway.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), on the other hand, told CNN's Fareed Zakaria on Saturday that the American people have "no appetite" for going to war with Iran. Tim O'Donnell

12:30 p.m.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was the subject of a wide-ranging interview published in the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, touching upon tensions with Iran, Saudi Arabia's economic future, and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Here are three key moments.

Blame game — The crown prince joined the U.S. in blaming Iran for recent attacks against oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, which Tehran has vehemently denied. He also said that, while Riyadh does not seek war with Iran, he will not hesitate to to "deal with any threat" to Saudi Arabia's sovereignty.

Veiled attack — Prince Mohammed also warned against "exploiting" the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi for political gains in what Al Jazeera writes was likely a veiled attack against Turkey, where Khashoggi was killed (those accused of the crime are Saudi government officials.) However, the crown prince added that he wants to maintain strong relations with Ankara.

Aramco is good to go — The prince said that Aramco, Saudi Arabia's national petroleum and gas company, is set to go through with an initial public offering as soon as next year, though it remains unclear where the stock will trade. The prince projected the companies value at about $2 trillion. The decision is reportedly part of Saudi Arabia's plan to diversify its economy and boost employment in new industries. Tim O'Donnell

11:47 a.m.

A massive blackout swept through all of Argentina and Uruguay on Sunday morning after an unexplained electrical failure in the Argentina network knocked out the interconnected system. Parts of Paraguay were also affected, BBC reports, while Al Jazeera writes that the outage also reportedly extends to parts of Brazil and Chile.

Argentine media reports that the country's trains have been halted. "Never has anything like this happened before," Alejandra Martinez, a spokesperson for electricity company Edesur Argentina said.

Edesur said power has been restored to 75,000 clients in parts of Buenos Aires and that two of the capital's airports were operating on generators. Argentina's energy secretary, Gustavo Lopetegui, also said power was being restored in some parts of the country but that the process could take several hours.

The outage occurred as people in several parts of Argentina were making their way to voting polls for local elections.

The combined population of Argentina and Uruguay is about 48 million people. Tim O'Donnell

11:03 a.m.

Boeing is reportedly attempting to cut hours off airborne testing for its new 777X airplane by using computer models to simulate flight conditions before presenting the results to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for certification, two people with direct knowledge of the strategy told Reuters, who was not able to confirm when Boeing decided to move forward with the plan.

The move would reportedly slash high development costs associated with physical safety testing, but it remains to be seen whether the FAA would allow the company to eliminate some of the physical tests. Boeing is currently the subject of probes by regulators and U.S. lawmakers after two of its 737 Max airplanes crashed in Ethiopia and Indonesia after a stall prevention software failure. The investigations could potentially throw Boeing's reported plans into jeopardy if they result in even more rigorous safety requirements, Reuters reports.

Five people familiar with the matter told Reuters that Boeing believes new technology and decades of testing experience have rendered some physical tests redundant for demonstrating safety. Read more at Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

8:35 a.m.

President Trump is angry at The New York Times once again.

The newspaper reported on Saturday that the U.S. has enacted a more aggressive approach when it comes to cyber attacks on Russia's electric power grid. The Times conducted interviews over a three month period in which current and former officials described the previously unreported deployment of American computer code inside Russia's grid and other targets. The actions are reportedly seen as a warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Two administration officials told the Times that they do not believe President Trump has been briefed about the new digital incursion strategy, while Pentagon and intelligence officials told the newspaper that they were concerned about how the president would react to the news. They also reportedly feared he would reverse the operations or discuss the classified information with foreign officials.

Trump has denied the story, even calling it a "virtual act of treason". Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

7:52 a.m.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators returned to the streets in Hong Kong on Sunday to protest a proposed extradition bill that would allow extradition to mainland China. The rally reportedly looks like it could reach the scale of last Sunday's protests, for which around 1 million people gathered.

The protesters were also calling for Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down, despite their understanding that she had little choice but to carry out orders from Beijing, The Associated Press reports.

Lam, reportedly with the backing of Beijing, announced on Saturday that she was suspending the extradition legislation after the protests turned violent during the week, but those opposed to the bill want it scrapped entirely. They fear the law would subject criminal suspects to possible torture and unfair trials if they are sent to China. Generally speaking, the protesters believe the bill is in conflict with Hong Kong's judicial independence and contributes to the territory's eroding freedoms. Tim O'Donnell

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