The Thomas Fire that started in Southern California's Ventura County last Monday has burned over 200,000 acres, growing in size by more than 25,000 acres on Sunday and forcing more people to evacuate in Santa Barbara County.
The out-of-control fire crossed county lines on Saturday night, fueled by dry winds and air, and is only 15 percent contained. Officials say 88,000 people have had to flee their homes because of the fire, and estimate it has cost $25 million to fight it so far. There are 8,500 firefighters currently battling six fires burning across Southern California.
In Santa Barbara County, about 85,000 customers are without power, and several schools have already canceled classes on Monday. The Santa Barbara Zoo is outside of the evacuation area, but smoke is in the air and ash is falling on the property, forcing the zoo to put the animals in their night quarters. To keep them entertained, staffers are playing with the animals and giving them plenty of treats and toys. "The gorillas like music," director of marketing Dean Noble told the Los Angeles Times. Catherine Garcia
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday 2,000 U.S. troops will remain in Syria, as there are "strategic threats" to the United States beyond the Islamic State.
"Iran has dramatically strengthened its presence in Syria...through its position in Syria, Iran is in a stronger position to extend its track record of attacking U.S. interests, allies, and personnel in the region," he said during remarks at Stanford University. U.S. troops were sent to northeastern Syria to assist Kurdish fighters battling ISIS militants, and although ISIS has just a small presence in the country, Tillerson said there's concern of a revival. "We cannot repeat the mistake of 2011, where a premature departure from Iraq allowed al Qaeda in Iraq to survive and eventually become ISIS," he said.
Tillerson also said the U.S. continues to push for a peace deal in the country that would exclude Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Catherine Garcia
Stephen Bannon did the one thing he wasn't supposed to do during his House Intelligence Committee hearing
It apparently only took an hour and a half for Stephen Bannon to crack himself like an egg during his hearing with the House Intelligence Committee.
Axios reported Wednesday that Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, accidentally told congressional investigators about his time working for the Trump administration, despite the fact that he'd been instructed not to by the White House. Bannon was less than 90 minutes into his hearing, Axios claimed, when he mentioned discussions he had with White House officials about the infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower where Donald Trump Jr. tried to get opposition research on Hillary Clinton from a Russian lawyer.
The Trump Tower meeting "has become one of the most important focal points of the Russia investigation," Axios explained, given reports that President Trump himself helped draft a misleading statement responding to the news after the meeting was first revealed by The New York Times last July. The White House's involvement in the creation of that statement could illuminate whether the Trump campaign tried to collude with Russia and whether the White House lied about those attempts, Axios explained.
Bannon declined to elaborate on his accidental disclosure, repeatedly invoking executive privilege. He additionally faced tough questioning from Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) about comments he'd made in Michael Wolff's book, Fire and Fury, where he'd claimed the Trump Jr. meeting was "treasonous." Read more about Bannon's rocky testimony at Axios. Kelly O'Meara Morales
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 26,000 points Wednesday, CNN Money reported, marking a historic first for the market index. The Dow had first passed the 26,000-point threshold Tuesday, but Wednesday was the first day that it sustained those gains at market close.
Overall, the index spiked 323 points over the course of Wednesday's trading, ending the day at 26,115.65 points. The 1.3 percent bump was spurred by "stronger-than-expected quarterly results from some of the biggest U.S. companies," CNBC explained. Kimberly Alters
During Wednesday's press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders summarily dismissed the ongoing Russia investigation as a "hoax."
Asked by The Wall Street Journal's Michael Bender whether President Trump was "prepared" for the reported escalation in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, Sanders did not mince words. "We've been dealing with this hoax for the better part of a year," she said. "If we have to endure the ridiculousness for another month we can certainly handle it."
Sanders on the Russia investigation: "I think we've been dealing with this hoax for the better part of a year. If we have to endure the ridiculousness for another month, we can certainly handle it" https://t.co/t3C0nMFPSx
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) January 17, 2018
Sanders did stress to reporters that the White House intends to be "fully cooperative" with Mueller's team, but she claimed the ongoing intrigue was unfair to the public. "Do the American people deserve [this investigation]? No, I don't think they do," she said.
On Tuesday, it was revealed that Stephen Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist, had been subpoenaed by Mueller to appear before a grand jury. Bannon agreed Wednesday to interview with Mueller, where he is expected to answer questions about his time working in the White House last year. Kelly O'Meara Morales
Republican senator jokes that the incessant squabbling in Washington is 'why the aliens won't talk to us'
The search for extraterrestrial life has hit a new roadblock: congressional decorum.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) vented to reporters Wednesday that politicians on Capitol Hill act like middle schoolers. The immaturity is hindering our other-worldly ambitions, he joked: "That's why the aliens won't talk to us."
"That's why the aliens won't talk to us," Sen. John Kennedy says of the Trump/shithole/DACA news cycle. "They look at us and say, ‘These people... they're 13 year olds.'"
— Haley Byrd (@byrdinator) January 17, 2018
HuffPost's Igor Bobic noted that Kennedy also compared the state of American politics to The Jerry Springer Show — which The Guardian once wrote "has delivered more on-air fights, ranting white supremacists, adulterous strippers, and transphobia than anything else on television." Kelly O'Meara Morales
Michael Wolff, the author of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, is not exactly well liked by President Trump these days. Wolff's book, which made public scandalous stories about the White House, has been blasted as "phony" and "fake" by Trump, who doesn't reserve kind words for Wolff either ("mentally deranged," "totally discredited").
One can't help but wonder, though, if Trump would have had the same reaction to the book if Wolff had used its original working title, The Great Transition: The First 100 Days of the Trump Administration. Whether or not Wolff really ever thought he would use that title, it nevertheless helped him slip into the White House without causing alarm. "In part due to that title, Wolff was able to exploit an inexperienced White House staff who mistakenly believed they could shape the book to the president's liking," Bloomberg Politics writes.
Wolff told Trump during [a phone call] that he wanted to write a book on the president's first 100 days in office. Many people want to write books about me, Trump replied — talk to my staff. Aides Kellyanne Conway and Hope Hicks listened to Wolff's pitch in a West Wing meeting the next day, but were noncommittal.
Several aides said Hicks later informally endorsed talking with Wolff as long as they made "positive" comments for the book, which they said Wolff told them would counter the media's unfair narrative. [Bloomberg Politics]
Well, here's how that has gone over. Regardless, the White House is reportedly cooperating with authors on at least two other books about its inner workings, including Ron Kessler and a joint project between Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Jeva Lange
Stephen Bannon wrapped up more than 11 hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, where his refusal to answer questions repeatedly frustrated lawmakers. Bannon reportedly invoked executive privilege, telling the committee that he couldn't answer their questions about anything he was involved with after the election because he'd been advised not to by the White House.
As it turns out, Bannon and the White House were practically on a direct line. Bannon's lawyer, Bill Burck, advised his client on what questions he could or could not answer by speaking on the phone "in real time" with the White House counsel's office, The Associated Press reports, based on a conversation with someone who was not authorized to talk about the arrangement publicly. "We said to Bannon, 'Don't answer those questions because we haven't agreed to that scope under the process,'" a White House official told CNBC.
In a different version of events, a person close to Bannon told CBS News that "Bannon's lawyer related topics about the transition and administration to the White House, and they told him that he was not authorized to answer questions on those topics unless the committee reached an accommodation with the White House on the proper scope of questioning."
In addition to being slapped with a subpoena at the House Intelligence Committee hearing — which did not prevent Bannon from continuing to refuse to answer questions — The New York Times reports that Bannon was subpoenaed last week by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify before a grand jury. Bannon has since struck a deal with Mueller and "is expected to cooperate with the special counsel," people familiar with the arrangement told CNN. In doing so, Bannon is expected to avoid the grand jury in favor of an interview with prosecutors, although it isn't clear yet if the subpoena will be withdrawn. Jeva Lange