February 8, 2019

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved 44 of President Trump's judicial nominees, sending them to a full-Senate vote where they will likely be confirmed.

HuffPost reports that it's "a huge number at once," and the sudden influx has Democrats concerned that Trump's picks are rapidly making federal courts substantially more conservative. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) pointed out that more than 80 percent of Trump's nominees are members of the Federalist Society, a conservative organization that has proven instrumental in elevating conservative lawyers to top judicial positions. Less than 4 percent of all American lawyers are members of the organization, Hirono told the committee.

"Month after month, we have seen a parade of these so-called conservative activists nominated to the federal courts," Hirono said on Thursday. "They have been groomed by conservative political ideologues," and are often deeply conservative on social issues, she continued.

Trump's administration has quietly been pushing forward in nominating and confirming 30 circuit judges and 53 district judges, writes HuffPost, in addition to Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, who are both members of the Federalist Society. At this point, 1 in 6 seats on the U.S. circuit courts are now filled by judges nominated by Trump.

One pick, Neomi Rao, faced sharp criticism on Tuesday for her past writings that suggested "intoxicated women were partly responsible for date rape," and Hirono said on Thursday that she was concerned about many of Trump's nominees, saying "they want to see Roe v. Wade overturned or narrowed into oblivion, LGBT people permanently consigned to the margins of American life, and constitutional and civil rights encroached [based] on the religious preference of a vocal few." Read more at HuffPost. Summer Meza

1:35 p.m.

If it's Friday, it must mean Jane Fonda is getting arrested in Washington, D.C. — and this week, she recruited a costar to join her.

Fonda has vowed to "get arrested every Friday" for 14 weeks in climate change protests at the U.S. Capitol in what she's calling Fire Drill Fridays. After first getting arrested protesting last week, she was arrested in another demonstration Friday, as was her Grace and Frankie costar Sam Waterston, Deadline reports.

The 78-year-old actor, who advocated for the Green New Deal during the protest, said this was his first time being arrested, reports NBC News' Frank Thorp.

Fonda in an interview with The Los Angeles Times previously said that some of her costars, including Waterston and Lilly Tomlin, would be joining her for the protests, and she added she might ask Martin Sheen to join as well. The protests will continue, potentially with rotating celebrity guests, for four months. Brendan Morrow

12:28 p.m.

At least 62 people have died and more than 100 others were injured in explosions at a mosque in eastern Afghanistan.

Multiple bombings caused the roof of a mosque in the Nangarhar province to collapse during Friday prayers, Reuters reports. Rescuers are still excavating the site and pulling survivors and bodies out of the destroyed mosque, a member of Nangarhar's provincial council said.

Explosives were put "under a podium in the main atrium of the mosque where people were praying before they exploded," a spokesperson for Nangarhar's governor tells The New York Times. So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, though the Deh Bala district does border rural ISIS-held areas. Afghanistan's government has so far blamed the Taliban for the attack, but the Taliban has denied involvement, per Reuters.

The attack comes as the United Nations declares violence against civilians has reached "extreme levels" in Afghanistan, CNN notes. At least 1,174 civilians died in the months of July-September, the largest quarterly total in a decade. The rising conflict largely stems from fighting between rival political groups. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:48 a.m.

Hillary Clinton has directly labeled 2016 Green Party nominee Jill Stein a "Russian asset," and indirectly suggested the same is true of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).

The 2016 Democratic presidential candidate during an appearance on the Campaign HQ podcast Thursday said she believes Russia in 2020 is going to "do third-party again," meaning push a third party candidate to help President Trump, The Washington Post reports. The previous time she's referring to is Stein's 2016 campaign.

"She's a Russian asset," Clinton said of Stein. "I mean, totally."

A report prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2018 concluded Russia's Internet Research Agency troll farm in 2016 pushed "pro-Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein content," The Hill reports.

This comment came after Clinton suggested there's an unnamed candidate in the field who Russians are grooming to run third party, clearly talking about Gabbard. Earlier this week, The New York Times wrote in reference to Gabbard that some "worry about supportive signs from online bot activity and the Russian news media."

"I'm not making any predictions, but I think they've got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary," Clinton said, with the "they" being the Russians. "And they're grooming her to be the third party candidate. She's the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far."

Gabbard has slammed such accusations at this week's Democratic debate, referring to the Times article as being full of "smears." In regards to Stein, the Post noted that "exit polls showed most of her voters wouldn't have supported either Clinton or Trump if Stein weren't running." Brendan Morrow

11:16 a.m.

Even former President Richard Nixon may have been better off than President Trump is now.

As evidence of Watergate wrongdoing started to catch up with Nixon, he still had one important asset: a loyal inner circle. But Trump is losing his aides left and right, leaving Trump in a situation that's "just cascading at this point," Nixon prosecutor Nick Akerman tells The Washington Post.

Like Trump, Nixon initially claimed he had no role in his Watergate scandal. But in Nixon's case, prosecutors had a hard time figuring out just how closely the president was tied to criminal activity because his devoted aides wouldn't give up the gun. In Trump's case, though, "you'll have that in spades," Akerman tells the Post. "All these individuals, all testifying that this is what happened. ... It's just cascading at this point," he continued.

There's a reason Trump's officials are so willing to spill the beans. Since Trump couldn't speak Ukrainian and Russian and isn't too politically experienced, he had to use a lot of foreign service officials to accomplish his goals that allegedly involved wrongdoing. They're largely "career people, extremely smart people who certainly don’t want their reputations smeared," so they're loyal "to the U.S. government and Constitution and not to [Trump]," Akerman said. And each time another one testifies, Akerman says it reveals "you've got Trump clearly involved."

Read more at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:15 a.m.

One state department official reportedly saw this whole Biden mess coming.

Back in 2015, career State Department official George Kent warned that Hunter Biden's spot on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma was sending the wrong message to the corruption-riddled Ukraine, three people say Kent told Congress on Tuesday. But when he raised those concerns to a staffer for then-Vice President Joe Biden, Kent says they shut him down, The Washington Post reports.

While the Bidens have claimed there was nothing ethically wrong with Hunter Biden's Burisma work, they've also said it was a mistake for him to take the role. That's the essence of what Kent reportedly told Congress during his testimony in President Trump's impeachment inquiry on Tuesday. Kent largely feared Hunter Biden's job "would complicate efforts by U.S. diplomats to convey to Ukrainian officials the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest," per the Post. Ukraine, the Post continues, might "view Hunter Biden as a conduit for currying influence with his father," Kent reportedly continued.

Kent reportedly said he told an unnamed Biden staffer about his fears, but "was told the then-vice president didn't have the 'bandwidth' to deal with" it because his other son Beau Biden was fighting cancer, the Post writes. The Post previously reported Biden staffers briefly discussed the possibility of Hunter Biden's work being seen as a conflict of interest. Read more at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:03 a.m.

Hollywood has once again spun the wheel of intellectual property to revive for the big screen and landed, this time, on Barney.

A new live-action movie based on the dinosaur from our imagination is in the works, with Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya producing, The Hollywood Reporter writes. The Oscar-nominated actor sure goes overboard in his announcement, seeming to stop just short of declaring this reboot will save cinema itself and isn't a Barney movie, but a Barney film.

"Barney was a ubiquitous figure in many of our childhoods, then he disappeared into the shadows, left misunderstood," Kaluuya declared. "We're excited to explore this compelling modern-day hero and see if his message of 'I love you, you love me' can stand the test of time."

The studio's description of the film wasn't much less over-the-top, with Mattel Films head Robbie Brenner promising a "completely new approach" to Barney "that will surprise audiences and subvert expectations" and "speak to the nostalgia of the brand in a way that will resonate with adults, while entertaining today's kids." Yes, we're still talking about Barney here.

There's no other details yet about how exactly the film plans to subvert expectations, perhaps with a Joker-style gritty origin story revealing Barney's troubled past, but stay tuned for more information about the inevitable Best Picture winner and to find out whether Martin Scorsese considers Barney movies to be cinema. Brendan Morrow

9:14 a.m.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says China wanted Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey fired over his Hong Kong tweet, but China is already denying it.

Silver spoke Thursday amid the ongoing controversy that began when Morey earlier this month tweeted his support for the pro-democracy, anti-Beijing Hong Kong protests. The NBA immediately distanced itself from his tweet in a statement, prompting criticism that it was kowtowing to the Chinese government due to the league's business in China.

Following that criticism, Silver defended Morey's freedom of speech, and he spoke further about the situation on Thursday, explaining that "we were being asked to fire [Morey], by the Chinese government, by the parties we dealt with, government and business,” The Washington Post reports. He added, "We said there's no chance that's happening."

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang claims there's no chance the request itself happened, saying the "Chinese government never posed this requirement," The Associated Press reports.

Silver also said Thursday the NBA's initial statement calling Morey's tweet regrettable was "misinterpreted," since it was referring to "the fact that we'd upset our Chinese fans" and "there was no regret directed to the [Chinese] government." China's state broadcaster in the aftermath of the tweet suspended the broadcast of NBA games, with Silver saying Thursday the "financial consequences have been and may continue to be fairly dramatic." Brendan Morrow

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