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
President Trump has reportedly considered eliminating the role of the White House chief of staff, NBC News reports. Amid administration shakeups and a dizzying number of vacant positions, Trump has floated firing Chief of Staff John Kelly and not naming a successor, people familiar with the president's thinking say.
Kelly has been described as a stabilizing force in the White House, serving as the gatekeeper of who can have an audience with the president and what papers can cross his desk. A forthcoming book about presidential chiefs of staff claims they have a huge impact on an administration's agenda, and that their "actions — and inactions ... have defined the course of our country."
Trump "appears to have tabled the suggestion" of eliminating the role of the chief of staff "for now," NBC News writes, although he is nevertheless "seriously considering" not replacing Kelly if he leaves on his own volition. Trump was reportedly intrigued by the prospect of running the government more like how he ran his business, with a small number of close aides reporting to him directly.
One person close to the administration said such a scenario wouldn't be much different than how things already are. "Donald Trump is the chief of staff," the person said. "He already calls the shots." Jeva Lange
Craigslist has shut down its "personals" section and will no longer host classified ads for people searching for sex, love, friendship, or anything in between. The announcement, made Friday, comes in response to a new online sex trafficking measure passed by Congress that President Trump is expected to sign into law.
On Wednesday, lawmakers approved the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, which holds websites liable for hosting content that advertises sex or enables potentially illegal actions. Craigslist cited the measure in a statement explaining why it would no longer host personal ads: "Any tool or service can be misused. We can't take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day."
The FOSTA bill cracks down on online platforms that were previously absolved of liability for user-generated content, reports The Hill. Those who support the bill say it will help victims of sex trafficking prosecute companies that failed to protect them. Opponents say it's a slippery slope to censorship and will be challenging for small organizations to enforce.
President Trump's incoming national security adviser, John Bolton, once appeared in a strange promotional video for a Kremlin-linked gun rights group, NPR reports. The Right to Bear Arms, a Russian organization, brought on Bolton in 2013 to promote the creation of a Second Amendment-like addendum to the nation's constitution. "The Bolton video appears to be another plank in a bridge built by Russia to conservative political organizations inside the United States," writes NPR.
At the time of the video's recording, Bolton was serving on the NRA's international affairs subcommittee. Traditionally Bolton — the former ambassador to the U.N. under President George W. Bush — has been no friend of Russia's. One person familiar with the video said former NRA president David Keene had personally asked Bolton to make the video.
The situation gets murkier when you look at the Russian group behind the footage. The Right to Bear Arm's founder, politician Alexander Torshin, is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has come under scrutiny recently by the FBI, which wants to know if Torshin illegally pushed money through the NRA to help elect Trump.
Russian citizens do not have a formal right to own a gun, as Americans do. "Were the Russian national government to grant a broader right to bear arms to its people, it would be creating a partnership with its citizens that would better allow for the protection of mothers, children, and families without in any way compromising the integrity of the Russian state," Bolton argues in the video. "That is my wish and my advice to your great people." Read more about the creation of the video and Bolton's involvement at NPR. Jeva Lange
President Trump believes that with the hawkish John Bolton as his national security adviser, he'll finally have the foreign policy team he wants, sources close to Trump tell Axios. Trump abruptly named Bolton to the post on Thursday evening, replacing H.R. McMaster, a studious Army general who reportedly bored Trump and clashed with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Kelly and Mattis had nothing to do with picking Bolton, Bolton's friends tell Axios.
McMaster has complained that Kelly, Mattis, and Tillerson treated him like a junior partner, McMaster allies tell Axios' Jonathan Swan, and one said: "One of the downsides of what happened is I only wish Tillerson was around to experience this. The two of them that wanted him out most — Mattis and Tillerson — I only wish they were both around to endure the pain of National Security Adviser Bolton. They hated him [McMaster] but they're going to like this a lot less."
Bolton allies see it the same way. "The short term is maybe they [Kelly and Mattis] think they got rid of H.R. McMaster," one Bolton confidante tells Swan. "The long term is you have a person beyond respected by the [House] Freedom Caucus, beyond respected by every foreign policy hawk that supports the president. He rightly views himself as a principal." A veteran of the George W. Bush White House and a protege of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Bolton knows his way around the bureaucracy, Axios says, and "Bolton's ideological foes fear him not only because of his hawkish ideas, but because he knows how to accomplish them." You can read more at Axios. Peter Weber
A gunman took hostages at a Super U supermarket in Trebes, a small town in southwestern France, on Friday. At least two people are dead and dozens wounded, a police spokeswoman tells The Associated Press. A security official told AFP that the gunman has been shot and killed by police.
Witnesses said the man had claimed allegiance to the Islamic State, and local media reports he was demanding the release of Salah Abdeslam, who is the only surviving member of the group that killed 130 people in attacks across Paris in 2015, CBS News writes. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe confirmed that the news out of Trebes "seems to be a terrorist act."
You can learn more in the BBC News report below. Peter Weber
This is a breaking news story and has been updated throughout.
A 17-year-old student who brought a gun to Great Mills High School in St. Mary's County, Maryland, on Tuesday did not live to see his victim die. But by Thursday, it was clear that Jaelynn Willey, 16, had "no life left in her," her mother, Melissa Willey, told reporters Thursday night, and her parents had decided to remove her from life support. "On Tuesday ... our lives changed completely and totally forever," Melissa Willey said. "My daughter was hurt by a boy who shot her in the head and took everything from our lives."
Just before class on Tuesday, police say, Austin Rollins took out his father's Glock handgun and opened fire, hitting Willey and a 14-year-old student who was released from the hospital on Wednesday. A school security officer, sheriff's Deputy First Class Blaine Gaskill, responded within a minute and shot Rollins, St. Mary's County Sheriff Tim Cameron said. It isn't clear yet if Rollins killed himself or was shot dead by Gaskill. "All indications suggest the shooting was not a random act of violence," the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday, adding that Rollins and the girl had been in a recently ended relationship. Peter Weber
Trevor Noah got serious on Thursday's Daily Show, sitting down with five students who survived the murder of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and asking them what they hope happens next. Students from the school have spearheaded a national push for new gun laws, and they are leading a March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.
The five students Noah spoke with did not agree on what should happen next. Carly Novell supported banning assault rifles and raising the age to purchase guns to 21, while Josh Belenke didn't support gun control and would like to see more armed adults at school but backed "gun violence restraining orders" like they have in California. Kai Koerber opposed armed teachers and any "lethal weapons" at school, he said. "I don't want to seem like that guy, but me being a minority in the South, having a teacher have a gun, regardless of color, does not make me feel comfortable." Mostly, the students wanted people to remember that they are still in pain.
Parkland is an affluent, mostly white community, but students in Baltimore are also being bussed in to the march. The Opposition's Kobi Libii went and trolled Baltimore's mayor and then spoke with black students in a Baltimore school where eight students were shot dead in just the last year, asking them why they are joining their peers from Florida on Saturday.
Jordan Klepper and the rest of the Opposition team were at a home in the D.C. area that's housing students coming in for the march. "I'm not going to lecture at you guys," Klepper told them. "I just want to listen — to myself lecture with you guys." The students mostly said "yes!" multiple times when Klepper asked them if they really want to ban assault rifles, but they will get their say on Saturday. Watch below. Peter Weber