July 12, 2018
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Last September, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh gave a speech about late Chief Justice William Rehnquist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, and he had a lot of nice things to say about Rehnquist's opposition to Roe v. Wade, rejection of "a wall of separation between church and state," and push to weaken the rights of suspects against police, the Los Angeles Times reports. The speech is illuminating because Kavanaugh is "not writing as a judge," said Drexel University law professor David S. Cohen. "This is him telling us his own views. And while he doesn't come out and say 'the dissent is right,' it is pretty clear he agrees with Rehnquist" that Roe was a mistake.

Kavanaugh called Rehnquist his "first judicial hero," and explained why he believed the justice's dissent in the 7-2 Roe decision was correct. "It is fair to say that Justice Rehnquist was not successful in convincing a majority of justices in the context of abortion, either in Roe itself or in later cases such as Casey," Kavanaugh said. "But he was successful in stemming the general tide of free-wheeling judicial creation of unenumerated rights that were not rooted in the nation's history and tradition." Kavanaugh said Rehnquist also moved the ball on dismantling the "wall" between church and state — a bad metaphor "based on bad history" — and weakened but did not end the "exclusionary rule" that prohibits police from using illegally obtained evidence.

"All three of areas of law — abortion, religion, and police searches — are likely to be in flux if Kavanaugh is confirmed and joins the high court this fall," the Times notes. And although Kavanaugh did not mention it, Justice Anthony Kennedy — whom Kavanaugh would replace — cast the deciding vote against Rehnquist's efforts to overturn Roe in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, allow prayer at public school events, and gut the "exclusionary rule." Read more at the Los Angeles Times. Peter Weber

12:33 p.m. ET

President Trump was asked a very straightforward question about Russia's interference in the 2016 election. His response was essentially: "But what about Hillary's emails?"

Jonathan Lemire, an Associated Press reporter, reminded Trump at his joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday that the entire U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia meddled in the election. Putin has repeatedly denied such actions.

"Who do you believe?" Lemire asked Trump. "Would you now, with the whole world watching, tell President Putin, would you denounce what happened in 2016, and would you warn him to never do it again?"

Trump immediately dodged, changing the topic without denouncing Russia or even acknowledging any misconduct. "You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server," he said, referring to the Democratic National Committee's server that was hacked. "I've been wondering that, I've been asking that for months and months." Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian agents in connection to the hacking last week.

Trump said that while U.S. officials have shown him that Russia interfered with election systems, Putin has said "it's not Russia" who meddled. "I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be [Russia]," said Trump, continuing to emphasize the importance of the DNC servers. "What happened to Hillary Clinton's emails?" he said, calling it a "disgrace" that her emails went missing. He said Putin was "extremely strong and powerful in his denial today" — so apparently, that's that. Watch Trump's non-answer below, via CNN. Summer Meza

12:18 p.m. ET

Russian President Vladimir Putin has a message for the Department of Justice: We didn't do it.

The leader definitively slammed accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election — and any election — during a press conference alongside President Trump, following the two men's closed-door meeting Monday. Russia "has never interfered and is not going to interfere into internal American affairs, including election processes," Putin claimed.

That's a slightly different message than the U.S. delivered Friday, when Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe indicted 12 Russian agents on charges related to interference in the election. Trump barely mentioned the charges before Monday's meeting, but revealed during the press conference that the two leaders did at least bring up the subject. Putin apparently "feels very strongly" about election meddling and has an "interesting idea" about it, Trump said.

Putin and Trump went on to question interference allegations as the conference continued. Putin welcomed Mueller's team to witness Russia's own interrogations of interference suspects, while Trump maintained his ongoing denial of any collusion, notably refusing to caution Putin against potential future interference because he "doesn't see any reason why" Russia would've meddled in the 2016 election anyway. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:52 a.m. ET
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President Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin for more than two hours Monday, in a closed-door summit that will produce no historical record. After their meeting, the two men emerged for a joint press conference, where Putin once again claimed that Russia did not interfere in America's 2016 presidential election — a claim that defies the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into Russian election meddling and whether there was any collusion by the Trump campaign with those efforts, has indicted multiple Russian entities and individuals for unlawful interference. But during the Monday presser, Trump took the opportunity to once again side with Putin over American intelligence, casting doubt on Russia's culpability by saying "both countries" were "responsible" for their fraught relations.

Trump then went a step further, attacking the Mueller probe while standing side-by-side with Putin. "The probe is a disaster for our country. it's kept us apart. It's kept us separated," Trump said. "There was no collusion. Everybody knows it." For good measure, Trump then cited his Electoral College victory in the 2016 race, noting that he ran a "brilliant campaign" and that's why he won "by a lot."

Putin, for his part, called the allegations of collusion "nonsense." "Could you name a single fact that definitively proves the collusion?" he asked. He later acknowledged outright that he "wanted" Trump to win the 2016 election. Kimberly Alters

11:50 a.m. ET

Russian President Vladimir Putin thinks the U.S. and Russia should work together on cybersecurity issues.

Following his meeting with President Trump on Monday, Putin commented on Russia's interference in the 2016 election. At a joint press conference, Putin said that Russia, of all countries, "favors the continued cooperation in counterterrorism and maintaining cybersecurity" on the world stage.

He also said that Trump brought up "the so-called interference of Russia with the American elections" during their closed-door meeting. "The Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere into internal American affairs, including the election process," claimed Putin. He admitted that U.S. and Russian "postures don't always dovetail," but called for collaboration to restore the relationship, which he said was tense for "no solid reason." The Russian president said that the two nations could work together on establishing peace in Syria, in addition to cybersecurity efforts, as a way to meet halfway and work on mutual interests.

Trump said that he and Putin "spent a great deal of time talking about" Russian interference in the election and cybersecurity issues. "President Putin may very well want to address it and very strongly, because he feels very strongly about it, and he has an interesting idea," said Trump, not clarifying whether he accepted Putin's denial and not elaborating on Putin's "idea." The two leaders did not indicate any specific way in which they had considered collaborating on solving cybersecurity concerns. Summer Meza

11:30 a.m. ET
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Plutonium went missing from the back seat of government worker's car last March, and the Department of Energy still has no idea where it went.

In March 2017, two Energy Department officials were supposed to drive from an Idaho lab to pick up some nuclear materials in San Antonio, Texas, and bring them back safely, The Center for Public Integrity reports. They rented a Ford Expedition, packed some plutonium and cesium, and eventually stopped at a Marriott hotel for the night. In the morning, the nuclear materials they left in the back seat were gone.

Notably, the two so-called energy experts didn't even pick up their intended cargo in San Antonio before losing the radioactive elements they brought from home. Plutonium and cesium are used to calibrate radiation detectors, which the experts would've needed to do before measuring the San Antonio materials to ensure they grabbed the right stuff, per CPI.

That was more than a year ago. Yet San Antonio police and the FBI never publicly announced the dangerous and valuable materials went missing, CPI says. In fact, police and the FBI only discussed the case by phone. And it's not an uncommon story: Plutonium has silently disappeared from U.S. military stockpiles for years despite presidential pledges to safeguard it from would-be terrorists.

Officials won't disclose just how much plutonium went missing — but don't worry, a spokeswoman assured CPI, it's not enough to make a bomb. Read more at The Center for Public Integrity. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:25 a.m. ET

"What is the point" of President Trump's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, wonders former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Does it have a "strategic purpose?" Hagel asked Monday. "Is this just a golf date with another leader?"

If you've had the same question, Trump has answers — perhaps too many answers. As The Washington Post documents, the president's explanations for why he should meet with Putin, as well as why they need to talk alone, have not been consistent in the run-up to Helsinki.

The president's discussion plan has at various points included Ukraine, China, Syria, "other parts of the Middle East," nuclear weapons, trade, military, missiles, election meddling, extradition of the 12 Russian agents indicted for election-related hacking Friday, and "many other subjects."

As for why Trump wanted to meet with Putin alone, CNN reports that the White House provided three separate reasons: "[Trump] wanted alone time to assess [Putin] better, he didn't want details of their conversation to leak and — this is key — didn't want aides who favor a hard line against Russia to undercut him."

Trump has also seemed to propose meeting just to meet ("I do believe in meetings") or to develop a positive personal relationship with Putin. "I hope we get along well," he said last week. "[I]n a sense, we're competitors. Not a question of friend or enemy. He's not my enemy. And, hopefully, someday, maybe he'll be a friend." Maybe the strategic purpose was friendship all along. Bonnie Kristian

11:03 a.m. ET
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President Trump's controversial decisions to meet with antagonistic world leaders will go down in the history books. The actual content of those meetings, however, will not.

His Monday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin was a one-on-one conversation, with only translators present, reports The Wall Street Journal. One official said Trump didn't want to invite note-takers into the room to avoid leaks — but that also means that there will be no official record of the meeting.

Trump also met alone with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month, and the two leaders had fairly different accounts of the conversation after it ended: Trump said that North Korea would immediately completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program, while Kim claimed he had agreed only to a "step-by-step" process with U.S. security guarantees.

Trump has said that he would ask Putin about election meddling, Syria, and nuclear weapons, but experts are concerned that Russia might offer a misleading account of the conversation. The meeting was scheduled to last for an hour and a half but stretched more than two hours, Reuters reported. While there will be no official historical record of what was discussed, Trump and Putin will hold a joint press conference following the meeting to give reporters at least some information. Unless Russia secretly records the meeting, we'll have to take their word for it. Summer Meza

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