The claim that Britain's GCHQ spied on Trump for Obama apparently started with an ex-CIA analyst on RT
Last Thursday, the White House provoked a diplomatic spat with America's closest ally, Britain, when Press Secretary Sean Spicer reiterated a claim from Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano that Britain's GCHQ spy agency had wiretapped President Trump during the presidential campaign at the behest of former President Barack Obama. By Friday, Britain and the White House were sparring over whether the Trump administration had apologized for repeating the claim, and if so, how much, and Napolitano had pointed The New York Times to one of his "intelligence sources," Larry C. Johnson.
Johnson, who was a CIA analyst before leaving the government about 30 years ago, is perhaps most famous, The Times notes, for spreading "false rumors in 2008 that Michelle Obama had been videotaped using a slur against Caucasians." On CNN Sunday, he told Brian Stelter where his information had come from and said he was actually not "knowingly" a source for Napolitano, adding that the retired judge "didn't get it right, accurate either." "I'm not saying the British GCHQ was wiretapping Trump's tower," Johnson said. Napolitano "shouldn't have used the word 'wiretap.' I call it an 'information operation' that's been directed against President Trump."
Johnson explained that the day after Trump's tweets about Obama wiretapping him, he went on RT, the Kremlin-funded news channel, and talked about how "the British through GCHQ were passing information back-channel," then shared that on a discussion board for former intelligence operatives. "Apparently one of the individuals there shared that with Judge Napolitano," he said. "I don't know what his other sources are." Johnson said two people "who were in a position to know" told him about the back-channel communications, but "this was not done at the direction of Barack Obama — let's be clear about that."
— CNN (@CNN) March 19, 2017
Napolitano is reportedly standing by his claim, but Fox News anchor Shepard Smith noted tartly on Friday that "Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano's commentary" and "Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now-president of the United States was surveilled at any time, any way. Full stop." Peter Weber
Shep Smith: "Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that POTUS was surveilled at any time in any way, full stop." pic.twitter.com/GxKSJJGD7D
— Axios (@axios) March 17, 2017
On Thursday night, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to issue a stay of execution for Arkansas death row inmate Kenneth Williams, 38, clearing the way for his execution before midnight. Williams is the fourth and apparently final inmate Arkansas will put to death before its supply of one of three lethal-injection drugs expires at the end of April. Originally, Gov. Asa Hutchinson had scheduled eight executions, two at a time, over 11 days; courts have stayed four of them. Williams had been scheduled for execution at 7 p.m., but Arkansas had postponed it pending word from the Supreme Court.
(UPDATE: Williams was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m. local time, after the lethal injection regime was administered starting at 10:52 p.m., according to prison officials.)
Lawyers for Williams and Harvard Law School's Fair Punishment Project had appealed his execution by arguing that the previous executions had been flawed and left the inmates suffering as they died, and also that Williams is developmentally disabled. Lawyers for the state told the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals that while Williams has "low average" intelligence, he did not cooperate with the doctors testing his mental capacity. Williams was convicted of murdering two people and later confessed to a third murder, and when he escaped from prison, he killed a fourth person when his getaway car slammed into a water truck. Peter Weber
If Congress is unable to pass a bill to fund the government by a Saturday morning deadline, it won't be that big of a deal, President Trump told Reuters in an interview Thursday.
"We'll see what happens," he said. "If there's a shutdown, there's a shutdown." Unless a bill is passed by 12:01 a.m. ET Saturday, the government will have to temporarily lay off hundreds of thousands of federal workers, which Trump admits would be a "very negative thing."
On Wednesday, the GOP introduced a bill that keeps the government afloat for another week, which would give Republicans and Democrats more time to negotiate a plan that funds the government through Sept. 30. Trump told Reuters his administration is prepared for a shutdown, and if it does take place, it will be the Democrats' fault. Catherine Garcia
Experts in financial crime from the United States Postal Inspection Service are now involved in the Justice Department's investigation of Fox News, several people with information on the matter told CNN Thursday.
The USPIS looks into mail fraud and wire fraud cases, and over the past few weeks, investigators have been interviewing former Fox News staffers, inquiring about managers and their business practices, CNN's Brian Stelter reports. In February, it was reported that the Justice Department was investigating Fox News, and at the time, they were said to be focusing on the settlements made with women who accused former Fox News boss Roger Ailes of sexual harassment, and whether shareholders needed to know about the agreements.
Now, CNN reports, investigators are also examining possible misconduct by Fox News personnel, specifically asking about people known as "friends of Roger," who were loyal to Ailes. They were employed by Fox News as consultants for unknown purposes, and one sent Fox News a monthly invoice for $10,000, CNN reports. 21st Century Fox declined to comment. Catherine Garcia
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters Thursday that there will not be a vote on health care legislation this week, as Republicans are "still educating members."
Politico reports the vote is now delayed until next week at the earliest. A vote was slated to be held on the GOP's American Health Care Act last month, but after several members of the conservative Freedom Caucus said they didn't support it, the bill was yanked from the floor by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). A revised bill was written by Freedom Caucus and centrist Tuesday Group members this week, but more than 15 Republican lawmakers have publicly said they will not vote for this new version of the AHCA. President Trump, nearing his 100th day in office, had said he would immediately repeal and replace ObamaCare once president. Catherine Garcia
In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, President Trump said "there is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea," but he is hopeful that the U.S. can find other ways to work with the country regarding its nuclear and missile programs.
"We'd love to solve things diplomatically, but it's very difficult," Trump said. The Trump administration has called North Korea an "urgent national security threat and top foreign policy priority," and on Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to urge the U.N. Security Council to enact more sanctions against Pyongyang. When asked about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump noted that he was 27 when his father died and he took over as ruler. "So say what you want but that is not easy, especially at that age," Trump said. "I'm not giving him credit or not giving him credit. I'm just saying that's a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he's rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he's rational."
Trump also had kind words for Chinese President Xi Jinping and his attempts to keep North Korea in check. "I believe he is trying very hard," he told Reuters. "He certainly doesn't want to see turmoil and death. He doesn't want to see it. He is a good man. He is a very good man and I got to know him very well." Catherine Garcia
On Thursday night, the Cleveland Browns selected Myles Garrett as the first overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Garrett, a 6-foot-4, 272 pound defensive lineman at Texas A&M, is the first player from the university to be the top overall pick. An All-American, he recorded 31 sacks over three years, and is the fourth defensive player since 2000 to be the draft's first selection. The 21-year-old was with friends and family at the Tierra Verde Golf Club in Arlington, Texas, when he heard the news. Catherine Garcia
Traveling at a speed of 77,000 mph, NASA's Cassini spacecraft made its first dive inside Saturn's rings, transmitting back to Earth on Thursday the closest-ever images of the planet.
— CassiniSaturn (@CassiniSaturn) April 27, 2017
Cassini has been exploring Saturn for 13 years, and on Wednesday, became the first spacecraft to enter the gap between Saturn and its innermost ring. "Cassini spacecraft has once again blazed a trail, showing us new wonders and demonstrating where our curiosity can take us if we dare," NASA planetary sciences chief Jim Green said in a statement. The pictures it sent back showed a hurricane, clouds, and a six-sided vortex weather system, Reuters reports.
Having been in space since 2004, Cassini is running low on fuel, and is expected to make 22 trips in the territory between Saturn's cloud tops and rings before it destroys itself on Sept. 15 by flying directly into Saturn's atmosphere (NASA is doing this so Cassini doesn't accidentally hit a moon that could support microbial life). Scientists are hoping Cassini will survive all of these dives, and that the information it collects on Saturn's inner moons, winds, clouds, and auroras can explain the source of Saturn's magnetic field and how fast the planet rotates. Catherine Garcia