August 13, 2019

When it emerged last week that the National Rifle Association and its estranged advertising firm, Ackerman McQueen, had moved to buy NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre and his wife, Susan, a $6 million mansion in suburban Dallas last year, the NRA insisted that "not a cent of NRA money was ultimately spent" on the abortive real estate purchase.

On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that it obtained a copy of a $70,000 check the NRA sent in May 2018 to WBB Investments LLC, a Delaware entity created a week previously. The money was intended as earnest money toward an offer on the 10,000-square-foot, four-bedroom, nine-bath French country–style estate in a gated golf club community, a person familiar with the transaction told the Journal. New York's attorney general is investigating the proposed purchase as part of a larger review of the NRA's nonprofit status.

"The NRA made a nominal payment to help facilitate the process for a real estate transaction that was supposedly being undertaken by Ackerman McQueen following the Parkland tragedy," NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam told the Journal. The check was reportedly returned after the deal fell apart. Ackerman McQueen said it's "patently false" that anyone other than LaPierre was driving the transaction.

Last week, The Washington Post reported that LaPierre wanted the NRA to buy him the property because "he was worried about being targeted and needed a more secure place to live" after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. LaPierre requested that WWB Investments be created to facilitate the purchase, the Post reported, and the LaPierres "were intensely involved in the selection of the property." Emails described to the Post show that Susan LaPierre was concerned there wasn't enough closet space in the men's master bedroom and bathroom.

ProPublica and The Trace published documents last week showing that NRA accountants reviewing the books flagged the $70,000 payment as a top concern and violation of the organization's "accounts payable procedures." Nonprofit lawyer Elizabeth Kingsley told the Journal that "if there's a check from the NRA to an LLC, that doesn't seem consistent with a story that Ackerman was going to pay for it." Peter Weber

8:32 a.m.

Welcome to NATO High.

In the latest Saturday Night Live cold open, the NBC show parodied the hot mic situation from last week's NATO conference, in which several world leaders appeared to be gossiping about President Trump. Paul Rudd, Jimmy Fallon, and James Corden joined the sketch as French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Rudd's Macron and Fallon's Trudeau are clearly the cool kids at the NATO conference, and they've decided to let Corden's Johnson tag along with them during lunch (though it seems they mostly want him to help them throw a party at Buckingham Palace.)

Meanwhile, Alec Baldwin returned as Trump, who — along with a tray filled with several cheeseburgers — tries to snag a seat at the table, but his continuously rejected by the trio, who eventually give their fourth seat to a shocked Angela Merkely (portrayed by Kate McKinnon). Baldwin's Trump is especally stung by Corden's Johnson, who he thought was his friend. After Baldwin's Trump gets fed up with his fellow leaders' antics, Cecily Strong's First Lady Melania Trump dropped by with a message about bullying. Watch the full skit below. Tim O'Donnell

8:09 a.m.

North Korea is at it again. But this time no one is exactly sure about what they're up to.

North Korean state media reported Sunday that Pyongyang conducted a "successful test of a great significance" Saturday at its Sohae satellite launch site, a rocket testing ground, but did not reveal what was tested. U.S. officials have said North Korea promised to close the testing ground, but it appears that won't be the case any longer as Pyongyang's year-end deadline to reach a denuclearization agreement with Washington nears after talks stalled earlier this year.

It likely wasn't a missile launch, since Japan and South Korea can usually detect those. Instead, missile experts said its possible North Korea tested a solid fuel rocket engine, which could allow the country to field intercontinental ballistic missiles that are easier to hide and faster to deploy. "If it is indeed a static engine test for a new solid or liquid fuel missile, it is yet another loud signal that the door for diplomacy is quickly slamming, if it isn't already" said Vipin Narang, a nuclear expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "This could be a very credible signal of what might await the world after the New Year."

North Korea has promised to adopt a "new path" if the U.S. does not offer sanctions relief, which analysts believe could include launching a satellite that would allow Pyongyang to continue testing missiles more covertly. Read more at BBC and Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

December 7, 2019

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) did not want to answer that one.

Warren on Saturday steered away from directly responding to a question about whether she would release her tax returns from before 2008 if her fellow Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg made his fundraisers open to the press.

The senator didn't say yes or no, but she made the argument she was focusing on the present. To her point, she has already released 10 years worth of her tax returns, which is more than President Trump or former President Barack Obama ever released. But Warren has also recently called for Buttigieg to release the names of his clients when he worked for the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. He began that job in 2007.

Buttigieg's camp responded to Warren already, and called for her to release the returns in a show of transparency. Tim O'Donnell

December 7, 2019

The FBI is keeping its investigation into the shooting that killed three people Friday at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Pensacola, Florida, tightly wrapped, but some information has made its way through.

The New York Times, for instance, reports that the suspected Saudi Arabian gunman — identified as Second Lt. Mohammad Saeed Alshamrani, an aviation student at the base who served in the Saudi air force — appears to have been self-radicalized. There is no evidence he had any ties to international terrorist groups, an initial assessment from American intelligence and counterterrorism officials revealed.

A motive reportedly remains unclear right now, though the SITE Intelligence Group which monitors jihadist activity, found a Twitter account that could not be independently verified, but had a name matching the suspect's. It contained posts criticizing U.S. foreign policy and quoting former al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, per the Times.

The FBI is still investigating whether the suspected gunman acted alone, as well. The Associated Press reports he had a dinner party with three other students earlier this week. They reportedly watched videos of mass shootings while there, a U.S. official told AP, and one of those students reportedly videotaped the building where the shooting was taking place, while the other two watched from a car. The official said 10 other Saudi students were being held on the base, while several others were unaccounted for.

As of now, though, there hasn't been any indication about whether the shooting was part of a larger operation, but that hasn't prevented some lawmakers from reaching their own conclusions. Tim O'Donnell

December 7, 2019

The House Judiciary Committee released a report Saturday geared toward defining what the Constitution's framers considered an impeachable defense.

The report comes after four legal experts testified about the subject Wednesday in the committee's initial hearing in President Trump's impeachment inquiry. The report, which traces impeachment's origins to monarchical England, doesn't conclude that Trump should be impeached, although Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) didn't mince words when announcing its release.

Ultimately, though, the committee is leaving that decision up to the House as a whole. Still, there's seemingly some hints at what future articles of impeachment — which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) asked committee chairs to draft — might look like.

Trump appears to have heard about the report and was quick as always to argue over Twitter that he was putting the U.S., not himself, first in his dealings with Ukraine. Tim O'Donnell

December 7, 2019

Congress is on the verge of implementing paid parental leave for all federal workers.

A tentative bipartisan agreement was struck during Congress' negotiations over its annual defense bill. Draft language includes a provision that would allow 2.1 million civilians who work for the U.S. government to take paid leave for 12 weeks to care for a new baby after birth, adoption, or the initiation of foster care, multiple people familiar with the agreement told The Wall Street Journal.

Currently, military members can take 12 weeks of paid parental leave, but civilian federal employees only receive unpaid parental leave and instead have to use accrued annual or sick leave to get paid during that time, per the Journal.

The White House is backing the deal, and Ivanka Trump reportedly played a role in the negotiations.

That has Democratic lawmakers optimistic the provision will pass.

Many lawmakers view this as a first step toward guaranteeing paid parental leave for all Americans, including those who work in the private sector, which Congress hopes will eventually match the same standard. "This will be a crucial win for federal employees and their families and a significant development in our ongoing fight for comprehensive paid family and medical leave for all Americans," Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) said. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

December 7, 2019

President Trump received some good news and some bad news from the Supreme Court on Friday.

First, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg temporarily blocked a congressional subpoena for President Trump's financial records from Deutsche Bank. The decision comes after Trump's emergency request to block a lower court ruling that required him to hand over the records as part of the House Financial Services and Intelligence Committees' investigation into Trump's relationship with the bank.

The stay on the ruling doesn't let Trump off the hook in the long run, however. It will remain in place until Dec. 13 while the Supreme Court deliberates on whether to grant a longer stay and give Trump's legal team time to prepare a formal appeal. But ultimately, it doesn't say much about how the Court will rule.

Meanwhile, in news that left the Trump administration — particularly the Justice Department — more disappointed, the Court rejected the White House's request to go ahead with a plan to carry out the first executions of federal death row inmates since 2003. The justices left a federal judge's hold on four executions scheduled by U.S. Attorney General William Barr in place, though the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District is now considering the case and should make a ruling within two months. Read more at Politico and Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

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