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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

2:14 p.m. ET

The White House has tried to squeeze every positive ounce out of President Trump's Monday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But there may not be much there.

Congressional Republicans received their daily set of talking points from the White House on Tuesday, which are meant to help the party and the president keep a united front. But half of Tuesday's list was just a backstory of the U.S.-Russia summit in Helsinki, Finland. The other half includes four bulleted times Trump acknowledged Russian meddling or said he trusted American intelligence — four times within the full 18 months of his presidency.

Those bullet points attempt to contradict nearly everyone's criticism of Trump's post-summit press conference with Putin on Monday: that the president questioned Russia's involvement in the 2016 election instead of condemning it. But Republicans aren't taking the bait and using the points, notes NBC News' Peter Alexander — perhaps because most of them already saw the whole press conference and ripped it to shreds. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:37 p.m. ET

President Trump seemed to have a bit of a Putin hangover Tuesday.

Trump reportedly didn't emerge from his residence until past noon, following widespread criticism over his comments at a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday. An NBC News reporter pointed out that Trump was nowhere to be seen in the West Wing, perhaps because he had no events on his public schedule all morning.

Whether the president was recovering from some wicked jet lag from the flight back from Helsinki — or on the mend from the brutal comments from even his fellow GOP lawmakers — he rested all morning, firing off just four tweets. Trump is scheduled to emerge at 2 p.m. ET, when he will speak about his meeting with Putin, replacing the meeting with members of Congress that suddenly appeared on his schedule Monday. Summer Meza

1:26 p.m. ET

Jupiter's massive gravitational attraction has collected some fresh followers.

While looking for a possible ninth planet, scientists instead discovered another 12 moons orbiting the gas giant, per a Monday press release from Carnegie Science. The find brings Jupiter's total number of moons to 79, the most in the solar system.

Eleven of the new moons are pretty normal, orbiting either with or against Jupiter's rotation. But in the release, scientists called one an "oddball" because it lives far out with moons that orbit counterclockwise, but travels clockwise itself.

Carnegie's team put together this video to explain the mysterious moon, named Valetudo after the Roman god Jupiter's great-granddaughter.

Scientists suggest Valetudo's reverse orbit could cause a head-on crash one day, per the release. But in a family of 79 moons, Jupiter was bound to have one rebel. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:45 p.m. ET

In his first major speech since leaving office, former President Barack Obama endorsed the idea of providing a universal basic income.

Speaking at the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in South Africa on Tuesday, Obama raised the notion of guaranteed income as a way to reduce what he called "yawning disparities" in wealth, education, and security across different socioeconomic groups.

"It's not just money that a job provides," said Obama. "It provides dignity and structure and a sense of place and a sense of purpose. So we're going to have to consider new ways of thinking about these problems, like a universal income, review of our workweek, how we retrain our young people, how we make everybody an entrepreneur at some level. But we're going have to worry about economics if we want to get democracy back on track."

He additionally called on the rich to support higher taxation, saying that "you don't have to take a vow of poverty just to say 'let me help out a few of these folks.'"

Watch the moment, along with Obama's other suggestions for improving on these "strange and uncertain" times below, via NBC News. Summer Meza

12:00 p.m. ET

Former President Barack Obama said that these "strange and uncertain" times can only be combated with an effort to "keep marching" and "keep building" away from discrimination and institutional inequality.

Obama made his first major speech since leaving office at the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in South Africa on Tuesday. He warned of "strongman politics" that are ascendant, "whereby elections and some pretense of democracy is maintained, but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning." He additionally condemned "far-right" political parties that "are based not just on platforms of protectionism and closed borders, but also on barely hidden racial nationalism."

The former president voiced concern that the world is "threatening to return to a more dangerous, more brutal way of doing business," and worried that social media is helping spread "hatred, and paranoia, and propaganda, and conspiracy theories." He said that humanity is at a crossroads, and hoped that people would be willing to work towards accepting a single "objective reality" in order to keep politicians honest.

Watch his full speech below, via the Obama Foundation. Summer Meza

11:00 a.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has been a powerhouse in the Senate for the last 26 years. She's also 85 years old, and even her own party thinks it's time for a fresh face.

Feinstein doesn't think so.

In an interview with Politico, the centrist Democrat said she doesn't "really feel that pressure" to give up her six-term Senate seat to welcome in a new Democrat. The most likely replacement would be California state Sen. Kevin de León (D), who is running against Feinstein this fall — and who received support from 54 percent of the state's Democratic Party delegates at their annual convention. Just 37 percent opted for Feinstein. Neither candidate achieved 60 percent of the vote, so a runoff gave de León the endorsement.

The 51-year-old de León declared the landslide victory an "astounding rejection of politics as usual" in a statement, Politico says. But Feinstein, who's known for her cautious yet progressive politics, doesn't think her time is up. "I'm sure some people think that way," she told Politico. "But I look at my vote, and there aren't a lot of people that can win every county in the state," referring to the results of California's June primary, which Feinstein definitively won.

Now, the Senate's oldest member — who even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has referred to as "your majesty" — is planning to take on President Trump's Supreme Court nominee. And she told Politico that "there's no question" other Democrats will have their day — once she's done having hers.

Read more about Feinstein's refusal to let go at Politico. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:49 a.m. ET
JAVED TANVEER/AFP/Getty Images

The Afghan government is planning its second-ever ceasefire with the Taliban since the U.S. invasion in 2001, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday night.

The ceasefire is scheduled to coincide with a Muslim holiday in August. Its announcement comes close on the heels of a United Nations report that civilian deaths for the first six months of 2018 are at a record high since the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began tracking casualties in 2009.

Taliban leaders agreed to an initial ceasefire timed for another holiday in June. The agreement did not include foreign troops, like U.S. forces, and other militant groups, like the Islamic State, were not involved.

The new ceasefire is intended to pave the way for peace talks between the Taliban, the United States, and the Afghan government. Defense Secretary James Mattis has said he does not think a "military victory" is plausible in Afghanistan; rather, "the victory will be a political reconciliation" between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Bonnie Kristian

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