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June 1, 2018

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emerged from a shorter-than-expected meeting Thursday morning with North Korean official Kim Yong Chol bearing a cautiously optimistic message about the speculative June 12 summit between President Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un. "I am confident we are moving in the right direction," he said at a press conference in New York. "Our two countries face a pivotal moment in our relationship, and it would be nothing short of tragic to let this opportunity go to waste." He also confirmed that Kim is bearing a letter to Trump from Kim Jong Un that he plans to deliver in person on Friday.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said late Thursday that the White House is still working out the details of the meeting, and it wasn't clear if Trump would welcome Kim Yong Chol in the Oval Office. The letter's contents are unknown, but the speculation is that it is aimed at reviving the June 12 summit. Kim is the highest-ranking North Korean official to visit the U.S. since Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok traveled to Washington in 2000 to meet with President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, trying to set up a summit between Clinton and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il that never materialized. Jo also brought Clinton a letter from Kim Jong Il, the late father of Kim Jong Un. Peter Weber

7:49 a.m.

President Trump on Friday said the United States did not pay North Korea any amount of money for the return of Otto Warmbier.

North Korea, The Washington Post reported on Thursday, presented the U.S. in 2017 with a $2 million bill for Warmbier's hospital care after a State Department official went to retrieve the detained American student. Warmbier had been comatose for 15 months by then and died shortly after turning to the United States.

This U.S. envoy, the Post reported, signed an agreement saying the U.S. would pay this $2 million bill, but it was unclear whether the bill ended up being paid. Trump on Friday denied that it was.

Trump did not deny the underlying report that North Korea presented the United States with a bill and that the U.S. said it would pay it, though. The Post had reported that this order to sign the agreement was passed down directly from Trump, and Warmbier's father in response said this sounded like "ransom."

Trump later in the morning tweeted a quote from a "hostage negotiator" praising him as the "greatest hostage negotiator that I know of in the history of the United States" but did not cite a source. Brendan Morrow

7:21 a.m.

This week, Merriam-Webster announced it added more than 640 new words to its dictionary in April. There are words you probably know or can figure out, like "clapback" and "vulture capitalism," and words you probably already assumed were in the dictionary: "Gig economy," "on-brand," "screen time." You can also now affirm that "purple" sometimes means areas split between Democrats and Republicans, and "snowflake" can also refer to "both 'someone regarded or treated as unique or special' and 'someone who is overly sensitive.'"

But if you've been stumped by what it means to stan Game of Thrones or wondered why everyone's laughing at the Nickelback stans, and you've not wanted to dig through the disreputable detritus of Google results, well, you're in luck.

The entire entry is illuminating, but the key point is that "stan" can be a noun or verb, it's pronounced like it looks, it is often used disparagingly, and it means to be or show yourself to be "an extremely or excessively enthusiastic and devoted fan." Its etymology traces the word back to Eminem stans who stanned his 2000 hit "Stan." Now you know.

You can also discover what a "bottle episode" is, learn the definitions of "swole" and "garbage time," and read the company's lexicologists wax poetic about the changing English language at Merriam-Webster. Peter Weber

6:06 a.m.

A federal three-judge panel ruled unanimously Thursday that Michigan's map of congressional and state legislative districts was unfairly drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature to give the GOP "a strong, systematic, and durable structural advantage in Michigan's elections and decidedly discriminates against Democrats."

The judges gave the GOP legislature until Aug. 1 to draw new maps acceptable to the state's new Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer. If they fail, or the map still violates the First Amendment rights of Democrats, the court will draw the new maps. The new districts must be ready by the 2020 election, the court found, and it ordered new state Senate elections in 2020, not 2022 as scheduled, in any gerrymandered district. A majority of Michigan's 14 congressional elections could be held in new districts next year, too.

"This court joins the growing chorus of federal courts that have, in recent years, held that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional," the judges wrote in their opinion. The case was brought by the League of Women Voters of Michigan. State GOP lawmakers said they will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, which may choose to suspend it until the high court hands down rulings on two other partisan gerrymandering cases in June.

"The decision is likely a boon for Democrats, who in 2018 failed to win a majority of the seats in the state House of Representatives, state Senate, or the state's U.S. congressional delegation despite winning the overall popular vote in all three cases," Reuters notes. Peter Weber

5:24 a.m.

The Murdoch family recently jettisoned its entertainment business by selling it to Disney for $71 billion, and that left Fox Corp. chief Lachlan Murdoch free of the liberal entertainment TV producers leading "a nascent rebellion" about Fox News' cheerleading for President Trump, Gabriel Sherman writes in May's Vanity Fair. "But for Lachlan and Fox, the Trump dissonance didn't end post-Disney deal — in some ways, it's even gotten worse."

First, the view that Fox News has become "an arm of the Trump White House" is increasingly widespread, and the network's journalists are bristling at the "right-wing, prime-time hosts" they hold responsible, Sherman reports. The pro-Trump pundits — Sean Hannity, Fox & Friends, Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs —argue that despite departing advertisers, they are still the network's cash cows. And "Lachlan is in a trap," he explains:

He can't simply issue a directive to temper the pro-Trump coverage to win back advertisers and calm restive reporters, because he would risk antagonizing the network's most important viewer: Trump. That happened in March when Fox suspended Jeanine Pirro for delivering an offensive monologue. ...

Inside Fox, staffers speculated Pirro would be fired, two sources told me, but Trump pre-empted such a move by calling Rupert Murdoch to complain about her suspension. Fox agreed to allow Pirro to come back on the air but cut her opening monologue, a venue for her most incendiary rhetoric. When Trump found out about that, he called Rupert again, a source said. A compromise was proposed: Pirro could return and deliver a shortened version of her opening statement. "Trump called Rupert, and Rupert put pressure on the executives," a source briefed on the conversations told me. [Sherman, Vanity Fair]

Lachlan Murdoch and the White House declined Vanity Fair's request for comment, and "a spokesperson for Fox News said the network's management never discussed canceling Pirro's show," Sherman notes. Read more about the Fox News-Trump relationship at Vanity Fair. Peter Weber

2:28 a.m.

Former White House Counsel Don McGahn isn't the only person who told Special Counsel Robert Mueller that President Trump unsuccessfully directed him to quash Mueller's investigation. According to Mueller's report, former Trump campaign manager and Trump "devotee" Corey Lewandowski also described at least two episodes in which Trump directed him to tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions to "unrecuse" himself and hamstring Mueller, or else.

"Through a combination of missed opportunities and personal hesitation, Lewandowski never executed Trump's demand," The Washington Post recounts. "But the roughly month-long period in the summer of 2017 depicted in Mueller's report details repeated and escalating efforts by the president to stymie the Russia probe."

The timeline laid out in Mueller's report goes like this: On June 14, 2017, The Washington Post reported that Mueller was investigating Trump for obstruction of justice. Three days later, Trump called McGahn and told him "Mueller has to go"; McGahn refused to fire him. On June 19, Trump invited Lewandowski, then a lobbyist, to the Oval Office and told him to dictate a message for Sessions, who was to say publicly that Trump "hasn't done anything wrong" and he was limiting Mueller to "investigating election meddling for future elections."

Lewandowski set up a June 20 meeting with Sessions, Sessions had to cancel, and Lewandowski decided to have a White House official, Rick Dearborn, deliver the message to Sessions, his old boss. At a second one-on-one Oval Office meeting July 19, Trump again told Lewandowski to deliver his message to Sessions, and fire Sessions if he refused to comply; Lewandowski then handed Trump's message to Dearborn, and Dearborn, similarly uncomfortable, discarded the notes without delivering them. Multiple people corroborated parts of this account.

The Post explored whether this episode constituted prosecutable obstruction of justice; a former federal prosecutor said yes, an unidentified senior Justice Department official said no, not technically. Read the opposing opinions, more details about the Trump-Lewandowski interactions, and a concise explainer on obstruction at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

1:46 a.m.

If Paul Rudd and Jimmy Fallon ever decide to switch careers, they could make it as a Dead or Alive cover band.

Rudd stopped by The Tonight Show Thursday, and the pair decided it was as good a time as any to recreate the music video for the '80s classic "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)." It was a shot-for-shot remake, with Rudd donning a black wig and eye patch, just like Dead or Alive's late singer Pete Burns.

Rudd was able to perfectly mimic Burns' frenetic mannerisms, and tried hard to match his booming voice. As for Fallon, he was content playing Rudd's red-headed, flag-waving sidekick. Watch the pair in all their '80s glory in the video below. Catherine Garcia

12:59 a.m.

President Trump revealed on Thursday night that he's "rooting for" Pete Buttigieg to win the 2020 Democratic primary, and he didn't even follow that up with something rude.

While appearing on Fox News, Trump was asked by host Sean Hannity what he thinks about the crowded Democratic field. He had harsh words for some of the candidates, but none for Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. "I'm rooting for him," Trump said. While he did add that he doesn't think Buttigieg will win the primary, he's hopeful he'll eke out a win. Trump didn't say why he's pro-Buttigieg, who would be running against him if he wins the primary, and also didn't comment on Buttigieg's polite war of words with Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump, who has a history of assessing candidates based on their energy levels, said he's dubbed former Vice President Joe Biden "Sleepy Joe," because apparently he's "a pretty sleepy guy." Trump doesn't think Biden has the stamina to keep up with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has "got a lot of energy," it's "misguided," he said.

As for Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), she appears to have "a little bit of a nasty wit," Trump said, while Beto O'Rourke, despite being "a hot item for a while," is now "fading very fast." Catherine Garcia

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