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August 7, 2018

President Trump's staff has left him to his own devices — notably, his Twitter phone — during his 11-day vacation at a golf resort in New Jersey, and "behind the scenes, he's apparently freaking out about all the investigations closing in," Stephen Colbert said on Monday's Late Show. "Between Friday and Sunday he tweeted 48 times!" Colbert focused on one tweet in particular: Trump admitting the Trump Tower meeting his son Don Jr. organized with Russians was about getting "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, and denying he's worried this puts his "wonderful son, Donald," in legal jeopardy.

"'Wonderful son' Donald?" Colbert joked. "So he has two sons named Donald?" He unpacked Trump's "tweetfession" some more. "Of course, the biggest takeaway from this tweet is that he's straight-up admitting that this was a meeting with representatives of the Russian government to get information on an opponent — also known as collusion," he said. Colbert ran through the earlier lies from Trump officials about the nature of the meeting, then moved on to Trump's first and only tweet about the wildfires ravaging California.

"I just want to take a second to say that our thoughts are with all those affected and with the first responders who are bravely fighting this disaster," Colbert said. "Donald Trump had a slightly different take," and he read it, with a factual critique. Trump makes a "good point," he deadpanned. "People forget that trees are the things that are burning; that's why we have to clear-cut them. Remember Smokey the Bear's motto: 'Only You Can Prevent Forests.'" Colbert ended by ridiculing a Trump tweet accusing the "Fake News Media" of starting wars. You can watch that below. Peter Weber

12:00p.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to do things his way, and he's not going to let a little thing like legal advice get in the way.

Justice Department officials are frustrated with Sessions' effort to push a hardline immigration agenda and policies regarding LGBT rights, The New York Times reported Friday. Sessions quickly took a deeply conservative approach to transforming the DOJ, officials told the Times, and often disregarded advice from staffers who opposed the rapid shift.

The attorney general reportedly sought legal advice from career attorney Stephen Buckingham, asking him to find a way to eliminate sanctuary city laws that protect undocumented immigrants. Buckingham told him there was no legal ground for such a crackdown, but Sessions reminded him that he wanted ultra-strict immigration laws, and asked him to reach a different conclusion, reports the Times. Buckingham resigned soon after the exchange.

Sessions also declined to consult with career experts and lawyers before eliminating protections for transgender people, and his insistence on finding ways to dismantle the Affordable Care Act despite legal guidance sparked significant internal tension.

His circumventing of legal advice is allowed, the Times notes, but a former DOJ official said that, while legal, "it would be inappropriate to ask people to tailor legal judgments to policy preferences." Several of Sessions' policy changes have been challenged or blocked in court. The determination to transform the department despite dissent has caused morale to sink, officials say. The "underlying message" from President Trump and Sessions, said Norman Eisen, a former special counsel for government ethics, "is that department employees are either enemies of the White House or vassals doing its bidding." Summer Meza

10:46a.m.

Another 93 women have come forward to accuse a former University of Southern California gynecologist of sexual misconduct, HuffPost reported Friday. The women, who are suing the school for its handling of the alleged abuse, join nearly 400 more who have previously reported wrongdoing by Dr. George Tyndall.

Many of the nearly 500 women who were allegedly mistreated say USC ignored their complaints against Tyndall.

Allegations against Tyndall first became public earlier this year, when the Los Angeles Times reported that he had been accused of misconduct, including making inappropriate remarks, groping, and taking pictures of patients' genitals. Students reportedly filed complaints against Tyndall as early as 1988, but he was not suspended until 2016.

A 2017 sexual harassment allegation led to an internal USC investigation that found evidence to support the claim. He resigned, and reportedly received a payout. Tyndall has denied the allegations.

Prior to the announcement of this new set of lawsuits, 50 of the accusers were already suing USC, reports CNN. In a press conference on Friday, attorney John Manly called for the state attorney general to get involved, saying that the university "miserably failed these women." Brendan Morrow

10:02a.m.

Six months after his horror debut A Quiet Place tore up the box office, John Krasinski is ready for round two.

Krasinski confirmed this week that he will write the sequel to A Quiet Place after directing, co-writing, and starring in the first movie, which follows a family who must remain silent in order to survive in a world overtaken by monsters with sensitive hearing. He said at a Wednesday event that he originally planned to not be involved in the second movie at all, and although he did come up with a "small idea," he told Paramount Pictures to go ahead and find new writers for it.

But as Paramount began to hear pitches, he thought about that "small idea" more and more. "And then I thought, 'this might really work,'" Krasinski said, per The Hollywood Reporter. So now, he's in the midst of writing the film, although he may or may not he return as its director. From the sounds of it, Krasinski is writing the movie alone, whereas the original was rewritten from a script by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck.

Krasinski has admitted that he never thought of a second movie while making the original Quiet Place. But after it became a total box office juggernaut, a sequel was announced almost immediately, scheduled for release in May 2020. While there's no word yet on what Krasinski's idea might be, he previously teased that a follow-up could revolve around a completely different set of characters, telling Deadline, "I think it would be interesting to see what’s going on elsewhere at this same time." Brendan Morrow

9:02a.m.

Ready to go through the 2016 election all over again?

Philippe Reines, who worked for Hillary Clinton going back to 2002 and was her senior adviser at the State Department, made the argument to Politico Friday that the former Democratic nominee might actually be the party's best hope for defeating Trump in 2020. He said no other Democrat has "anywhere near a base of 32 million people," especially not Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). The party, he feels, shouldn't dismiss her as a failed candidate because she's "smarter" and "tougher" than most, and she "could raise money easier than most."

But it doesn't sound like this is just wishful thinking on his part. He really thinks it could happen, saying the chances of Clinton running in 2020 are "not zero.”

Publicly, Clinton has said she will not run again, but Reines doesn't sound so sure she'll keep her word on that. Politico explored Clinton's careful re-entry into the political arena, noting that she's going on tour with former President Bill Clinton this fall and has reportedly even called up journalists who cover the White House to put out "the occasional feeler."

Despite her non-zero interest in public office, her favorability is even lower than it was in 2016. A recent Gallup poll found that Clinton is now polling at 36 percent — five points lower than President Trump. Read more about her political future at Politico. Brendan Morrow

8:04a.m.

Turnout for the last midterm elections was embarrassingly poor, but this year, things are looking different.

As early voting surges in some states, election expert Michael McDonald told Talking Points Memo Friday he's predicting a turnout of between 45 and 50 percent of eligible voters. That would be the highest figure since at least 1970, when turnout hit 47 percent, and could possibly be the highest since 1966, when turnout was 49 percent, NPR reports.

This is a significant turnaround from the 2014 midterms, when just 36 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, the worst showing since World War II, per PBS. The 2018 upswing isn't entirely surprising, though, considering turnout was also way up in primary elections earlier this year; about 37 million people participated in House primaries, compared to 24 million four years ago, Pew Research Center reports.

Early voting has already hit very high numbers in several states, from Georgia to Tennessee and Kansas. McDonald told TPM that the data he's seeing so far is "very unusual," especially in Georgia, where three times as many people have cast their ballots than did by this point in 2014. He added, "I've never seen anything like this." Brendan Morrow

7:35a.m.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia are progressing with their parallel investigations into the Oct. 2 disappearance of Saudi journalist and government critic Jamal Khashoggi, last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Turkey says it has evidence a 15-man Saudi death squad killed and dismembered Khashoggi inside the consulate, and a Turkish official told The Associated Press on Friday that authorities are looking into the possibility that the Saudis buried Khashoggi's remains in the nearby Belgrade Forest or the city of Yalova, where consulate vehicles traveled separately on Oct. 2. CNN reports that Turkish intelligence agents searched one of the two Saudi chartered jets that carried the 15 Saudis to and from Istanbul, and it did not appear to contain anything suspicious.

There's speculation that only a Saudi ruler could order a 15-man hit squad to murder a U.S. resident inside a Saudi consulate, but the Saudis "are considering blaming a top intelligence official close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi," The New York Times reported Thursday, citing three people with knowledge of the Saudi plans. "The plan to assign blame to Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, a high-ranking adviser to the crown prince, would be an extraordinary recognition of the magnitude of international backlash to hit the kingdom," and it would make it "technically plausible" that the crown prince didn't ordered the killing.

"The Saudi rulers are expected to say that General Assiri received oral authorization from Prince Mohammed to capture Mr. Khashoggi for an interrogation in Saudi Arabia, but either misunderstood his instructions or overstepped that authorization and took the dissident's life," two people told the Times. "People close to the White House have already been briefed and given General Assiri's name." Peter Weber

5:52a.m.

The presumed murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudis is probably the big story of the week, Stephen Colbert told Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski on Thursday's Late Show. "What do you make of the president's response so far?" "Pathetic," said Brzezinski. "A complete embarrassment," Scarborough concurred. "We now are basically selling out our interests nationwide, our values, and who we are as a nation, for money."

"Listen, we need nothing from Saudi Arabia," Scarborough said, not their money, not their oil. "These people took a Washington Post columnist, a Virginia resident who has two American children, and sawed him up while he was alive for criticizing a Saudi leader in The Washington Post." The U.S. has aligned itself with some problematic regimes, and "we had to turn a blind eye to some things that we shouldn't have turned a blind eye to. It always catches up to us in the end," Scarborough said. "We can do better," and that requires voting. Regardless of your party affiliation, he argued, "you have to agree that Donald Trump needs to be checked."

Colbert switched to a different election. Scarborough and Brzezinski listed Joe Biden, John Kerry, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as "reasonable" Democratic hopefuls for 2020, and when Colbert asked if any Republican will primary Trump, Scarborough said yes they would, but the won't have to. "I don't think Donald Trump's going to run for re-election," he predicted. "He's gonna cash out."

"I think that would be a smart thing for him to do," Colbert said, seriously, but "I don't want it to happen" because "it's important that the voters of America have an opportunity to say, 'Oops, my bad, we made a mistake there,' and correct themselves, and if Donald Trump doesn't run, he takes away that corrective action of history and therefore his presidency is whole and unjudged." Watch below. Peter Weber

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