January 21, 2018

The White House public comment line is not accepting calls during the government shutdown, and the voicemail message has been updated to blame this change on Democrats.

"Thank you for calling the White House," the message says. "Unfortunately, we cannot answer your call today because congressional Democrats are holding government funding, including funding for our troops and other national security priorities, hostage to an unrelated immigration debate."

Callers are encouraged to contact the White House online instead, because apparently the internet is better suited to weathering the shutdown storm. Bonnie Kristian

4:00 a.m.

Federal prosecutors have charged Internal Revenue Service investigative analyst John Fry with leaking confidential suspicious-activity reports (SARs) about Michael Cohen, President Trump's former lawyer, to Michael Avenatti, the attorney representing porn actress Stormy Daniels, according to court documents unsealed in San Francisco on Thursday. SARs flag potentially unlawful bank transactions, and Fry reportedly admitted to describing and sending images of Cohen's SARs to Avenatti in May 2018 and discussing them with New Yorker journalist Ronan Farrow.

The Washington Post and Farrow's New Yorker soon published articles, based on the SARs, tracing Cohen's hush-money payments to Daniels to stay quiet about her purported extramarital affair with Trump. Both articles are cited in the government's criminal complaint. Cohen has since pleaded guilty to campaign finance law violations stemming from those payments, which he says he made on Trump's orders. The SARs also led to the discovery of other shady payments to Cohen. Peter Weber

3:01 a.m.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw told the Justice Department that he may expand his order from last July that the Trump administration reunite most families separated under President Trump's "zero tolerance" border policy in the light of new evidence that the policy started earlier than originally acknowledged.

"No one but a few in the government knew that these separations had been going on nine or 10 months before, and that hundreds if not thousands of children were" being separated, Sabraw told Justice Department lawyer Scott Stewart. "The court didn't know that and plaintiffs didn't know that, and I don't think government counsel knew that." Stewart pushed back, saying accounting for and reuniting more than the roughly 2,800 families included under Sabraw's original order would "blow the case into some other galaxy" and suggested such an decision may push the Justice Department to fight Sabraw "tooth and nail."

The ACLU, the plaintiff in the case, wants Sabraw to extend his order to all families separated under Trump since July 2017, and ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt said his organization is "prepared, no matter how big the burden is," to continue helping track down separated parents and children, with information provided by the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Health and Human Services. The first step is identifying which parents and children have been separated. "It's important to recognize that we're talking about human beings," Sabraw reminded Stewart. "Every person needs to be accounted for."

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has continued separating hundreds of children from their families under a system where U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents untrained in child welfare decide if a parent poses a "danger" to the child, USA Today details. "Family separations are still very much happening in the southern border," Efrén Olivares at the Texas Civil Rights Project tells NBC News. The organization has discovered at least a few wrongly separated families, he added. Peter Weber

2:05 a.m.

Besides bamboo, there's nothing Mei Xiang and Bei Bei love more than frolicking in the snow.

The giant pandas live at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C. During a snowstorm on Wednesday, Mei Xiang, 20, and Bei Bei, 3, went wild, tumbling and doing somersaults on the fresh powder. When they weren't rolling around in the snow, they were climbing trees, falling down from trees, and stopping for bamboo breaks. Watch the adorable video below. Catherine Garcia

1:38 a.m.

He's young, he's shirtless, he's ... Abraham Lincoln?

For years, an eight-foot sculpture titled "Young Lincoln" has been on display inside the Los Angeles Federal Courthouse. Made in 1941, it's the shirtless, smoldering version of the 16th president, complete with the limestone Lincoln tugging at his waistband (before you get too excited, he's got a book in the other hand). Someone recently snapped a photo of the sculpture and posted it online, and now, people are having a field day renaming the piece, calling it "Babe-raham Lincoln," "The Gettysburg Undress," and "Honest Abs."

The sculpture was made by James Lee Hansen when he was only 23, and at the time of its unveiling, he was criticized for not putting a shirt on the president. Hansen explained that "from a sculpturing standpoint, it's better to show the body without any clothes. That's why I left 'em off." While he could have followed up with "F.D.Rawr," "Young Lincoln" was Hansen's only sculpture of a topless president. Catherine Garcia

12:57 a.m.

"It's a strange and disturbing news day in America — The New York Times summed it up with their new slogan, 'All the News That's Ick to Print,'" Stephen Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show. "And the icky part, I gotta say, starts with Empire actor Jussie Smollett," arrested Thursday for allegedly faking his own hate crime. "Now, this story involves race, sexuality, politics, and violence, so I need to tread very lightly here and simply say: What a dick," Colbert said. "Smollett cast himself as a fake national symbol for our real racial and political divide." He outlined the case.

"Look, I'm no expert, but if you're going to fake a white supremacist hate crime, hire two white guys," Colbert suggested, not two black brothers. "Smollett also — and this is a conspiracy no-no, paid the brothers by check. Come on. It did not help that he wrote in the memo line: 'For faking hate crime against me, Jussie Smollett, the guy from Empire.'" This whole case "is a horrible affront to actual victims of hate crimes," he added. President Trump, of course, attacked Smollett on Twitter.

"But Smollett isn't the only icky news today — last night we found out the FBI has arrested a Coast Guard officer who was planning a rampage against Democrats and journalists," Colbert said. "The officer in question, Christopher P. Hasson, once wrote a letter, 'I am a long time White Nationalist, having been a skinhead 30-plus years.' Thirty years? That is a long time. He is close to skinhead retirement. Soon he can cash in his 401(KKK)."

"So this man is a homicidal, racist monster, serving in our military, but don't worry, the commander in chief slapped him down with a savage tweet of ... nothing," Colbert said. "Silence. Hasn't commented. It makes sense: Hasson only wants to kill everyone on earth, it's not like he's hosting SNL." Watch below. Peter Weber

12:32 a.m.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's final report on the investigation into Russian meddling could be issued as early as next week, and if that's the case, Seth Meyers think President Trump might be preparing an exit strategy — with an assist from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

On Thursday's Late Night, Meyers went over the different ways Trump may have interfered with the probe, including firing former FBI Director James Comey after he refused to drop an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and then bragging to Russian officials about it. "The evidence is clear, when this is all over Trump's either going to go to jail or he's going to have to resign and flee and join the Space Force," Meyers said.

Should the report come out next week, its release could coincide with Trump's scheduled meeting in Hanoi with Kim. "If that happens, there's a good chance Trump just won't come back," Meyers said. Pretending to be Trump, Meyers added, "Kim, you've got to smuggle me back to North Korea. Hide me in your coat!" Watch the video below. Catherine Garcia

February 21, 2019

Trevor Noah was skeptical of Empire actor Jussie Smollett's hate-crime story before Smollett was arrested on Thursday for allegedly faking the attack, but he was incredulous after Chicago police and prosecutors laid out the evidence. Like Smollett's alleged motive: "Are you kidding me? This dude may have faked a hate crime just to get a raise?" Noah asked on Thursday's Daily Show, struggling to find the logic: "You get your ass beat, and then you go to your boss and be like, 'Hey, can I get another million dollars? I need to buy some band-aids'?" He suggested blackmail as a better alternative.

And paying your accomplices by check? "What, did he also write 'Fake Hate Crime' in the memo?" Noah asked. "Even amateurs know if you commit a crime, you go all cash, people! No paper trail!" The bottom line is "if he did do this, Smollett did a horrible job with this fake crime," he said, playing one more detail involving a camera failure.

"So Jussie is potentially going to prison for a while, and in his wake, he has screwed over everyone," Noah said: Members of the gay community, Trump supporters, and Democratic candidates who decried the attack. The only winner here is Subway, he added, for reasons he explained, "but there is a silver lining: When this started out, it was a story about people who hated Jussie Smollett because he was black and gay. But now, people hate him because he's an a--hole. In other words, they're judging him on the content of his character and not the color of his skin. And that, my friends, is progress." Watch below. Peter Weber

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