Update 5:24 p.m. ET: NBC News reporter Julia Ainsley clarified that Michael Cohen's phone calls were being monitored but not listened to. NBC News had originally reported that Cohen's phone lines had been wiretapped — which would allow federal investigators to hear the content of his calls — but Ainsley said that Cohen's phones were merely being subject to a pen register, which would allow agents to determine with whom Cohen was communicating but not what was being said. Our original story appears below.
President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was reportedly wiretapped by federal investigators in the weeks leading up to the raids on his home and office in early April, two people familiar with the legal proceedings told NBC News. After the raids, Trump's legal team reportedly advised the president against contacting Cohen on the suspicion that the lawyer's phone conversations were being recorded by prosecutors.
Trump, who doesn't exactly have a reputation for following his lawyers' advice, apparently placed a call to Cohen in the days after the raid anyway. Rudy Giuliani, who has since joined Trump's legal team, reportedly had to specifically instruct Trump not to call Cohen again after he learned about the president's call, people familiar with the exchange told NBC.
Cohen is expected to be under federal investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance violations. On Thursday, Trump confirmed that Cohen had paid $130,000 to adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about her allegations of an affair with Trump, although the president stressed that the payment was from his personal funds, rather than from the campaign's coffers.
In order to have obtained a wiretap on Cohen, investigators would have had to have convincingly demonstrated that there is a possibility of an ongoing crime. "The affidavits are typically highly detailed and carefully vetted by experienced lawyers," said former U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg. "In all cases the wiretap must be approved by a federal judge."
Mike Pompeo, the CIA director tapped by President Trump to be the next secretary of state, revealed Thursday that scores of Russians were recently killed by U.S. forces in Syria.
Pompeo made the remark while appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a confirmation hearing, as he seeks to succeed Rex Tillerson as head of the State Department. The statement, reported by CNN's Jim Sciutto, revealed something that no U.S. officials have publicly confirmed before: that a U.S.-led coalition killed Russian fighters in a February battle in eastern Syria. The U.S. and Russia are involved in a proxy war in Syria, where government forces aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are battling various rebel groups, but neither country wants to escalate the fighting into a direct conflict between Moscow and Washington.
Russia confirmed in February that "several dozen" Russians were killed or wounded in Syria. At least some of those killed were reportedly mercenaries, paid soldiers fighting for the Kremlin-backed Syrian government.
The U.S. kept fairly quiet about the clash, though one anonymous official told Bloomberg that U.S. forces were responsible for the Russian deaths. Still, Pompeo's explanation to lawmakers that "a couple hundred Russians were killed" at Thursday's public hearing was the first time a U.S. official confirmed the reports.
Moscow denies sending soldiers to fight in Syria, calling them "volunteers," and the U.S. has taken pains to avoid addressing direct conflict with Russia in Syria, lest the proxy war escalate. An American military spokesman told The New York Times that the U.S. would not create conflict with Russian forces and said that only Syrian troops were targeted. Summer Meza
Personal information from up to 87 million Facebook users was improperly shared with data firm Cambridge Analytica, Facebook revealed Wednesday — significantly more than the company's previous estimate of 50 million.
Most of the 87 million users were Americans, the social media company explained in a blog post. Facebook will start notifying users next week if their information was improperly obtained. The post also outlined a number of measures intended to restrict data access for third-party apps, such as disabling a feature that allows users to search for friends using phone numbers, which put "most people on Facebook" at risk of data-scraping.
Facebook has been under intense scrutiny since reports found that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm with ties to President Trump, had harvested user information without permission. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO, has agreed to testify before the House Oversight Committee to address the "breach of trust." Summer Meza
A math teacher apparently injured students after discharging a handgun during a classroom firearm safety course
Three students were injured when a math teacher fired a semiautomatic handgun at the ceiling of a classroom during a firearm safety course on Tuesday at Seaside High School in Monterey County, California, NBC News reports. "It's the craziest thing," said Fermin Gonzales, whose 17-year-old son was apparently bruised by a bullet fragment. "It could have been very bad."
The math teacher, Dennis Alexander, teaches an administration of justice course, which is where he fired the weapon. He is also a reserve police officer for the Sand City Police Department, although since the incident he has been placed on administrative leave by both the school and the police department. School district officials told local reporters that Alexander had not been authorized to carry a firearm on the school grounds.
The incident occurred a day before nationwide walkouts by students in protest of gun violence. President Trump has pushed for arming teachers as a solution to mass shootings: "History shows that a school shooting lasts, on average, 3 minutes," he tweeted last month. "It takes police & first responders approximately 5 to 8 minutes to get to site of crime. Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive." Jeva Lange
You know that phrase you start to hear all the time on TV in the fall, something like "I'm Angus and I approve this message" or "This ad was paid for by Canines for a Better America?" The Federal Election Commission clarified in an opinion in December that such a disclaimer needs to be visible on ads on websites like Facebook too — only it doesn't seem like anyone is actually obeying. A ProPublica investigation found that of 300 political ads that have run on Facebook, fewer than 40 actually met the FEC's disclaimer laws.
Ads lacking the proper FEC language include ones paid for by the Democratic National Committee and President Trump's 2020 campaign. Fines for "knowing and willful" violations of the law can be over $1,000.
The regulations are under particular scrutiny now, as it has become increasingly clear that Russian agents used Facebook to promote their agenda during the 2016 election. "Foreign contributions to campaigns for U.S. federal office are illegal," ProPublica notes. "Online, advertisers can target ads to relatively small groups of people. Once the marketing campaign is over, the ads disappear. This makes it difficult for the public to scrutinize them."
The FEC's rules have changed as the nature of online advertising has, too. In 2011, when ads on Facebook were limited to small thumbnails and short text, the FEC agreed that the disclaimer could appear after clicking through the ad. "The functionality and capabilities of today's Facebook Video and Image ads can accommodate the information without the same constrictions imposed by the character-limited ads that Facebook presented to the Commission in 2011," the commission wrote in December.
Republican Sen. Joni Ernst faced open ridicule by her constituents at an "otherwise friendly" event in Red Oak, Iowa, on Sunday after she fumbled an answer about which foreign countries President Trump is "standing up for," Shareblue Media writes. The awkward moment followed a question by Stanton resident Barb Melson, who asked if Ernst is "taking a stand or doing something about the damage Trump is doing to our neighbors around the world with his white supremacy talk."
Ernst initially deflected the question, saying she would rather talk about things that are important to Iowa specifically, but then suggested Trump is "standing up for a lot of the countries." She was interrupted by a shouted demand to "name a few."
"Norway," Ernst said, drawing open laughs.
Norway is one of the least ethnically diverse countries in the world, with 83 percent of residents being Norwegian and another 8 percent being from somewhere else in Europe. The country was reportedly offered by Trump as an alternative to "shithole" places like Haiti, El Salvador, and unspecified African nations during a meeting with lawmakers last week.
In Boone, Iowa, on Monday, Ernst drew further "groans from the crowd" when she told voters that she doesn't believe Trump is a racist "deep inside," the Des Moines Register writes. "I think he's brash and he says things that are on his mind, but I don't truly believe that he's a racist," Ernst said. Watch Ernst speak in Red Oak below. Jeva Lange
Rural Iowa voters laugh out loud at Republican Senator Joni Ernst’s defense of Trump. pic.twitter.com/yu0ywmwQAd
— ☇RiotWomenn☇ (@riotwomennn) January 16, 2018
President Trump on Thursday appeared bewildered by his own administration's goals, tweeting out his disapproval of a House bill reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) — a contradiction of the White House's official position — before tacking his support back onto it an hour and a half later.
“House votes on controversial FISA ACT today.” This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2018
As Jonathan Chait observed at New York, Trump's initial tweet was apparently a response to Fox News judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano, who advised Trump on TV against the reauthorization of the bill. "The president's alarm was unfortunate, since the Trump administration strongly supports reauthorization of this law," Chait writes. "It has sent its highest-ranking security officials to lobby Congress for reauthorization, and reiterated its endorsement of the law as recently as last night."
During the segment, after claiming that Trump's "woes began" with "surveillance of him," Andrew Napolitano literally turns to the camera and says, "Mr. President, this is not the way to go." pic.twitter.com/W8NrtDDP3I
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) January 11, 2018
Someone in the White House perhaps intercepted Trump before he could do more damage, as the president tweeted this later in the morning:
With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today’s vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it! Get smart!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2018
At least a few Republicans were relieved by the correction. "The House should pass the #FISA HPSCI compromise bill as is," tweeted Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). "This program is about stopping terrorists and keeping the U.S. safe, and it protects the privacy of American citizens." Jeva Lange
NBC made itself an easy target for supporters of President Trump on Sunday night when it crowned Oprah Winfrey "OUR future president." The tweet came in response to a joke by Golden Globes host Seth Meyers, who said: "In 2011, I told some jokes about our current president at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Jokes about how he was unqualified to be president. Some have said that night convinced him to run. So if that's true, I just want to say: Oprah, you will never be president! You do not have what it takes!”
"In case anyone had any doubts about where the media stands, this should take care of it," tweeted Donald Trump Jr. afterwards. "The bias against @realDonaldTrump is now so obvious they have simply given up hiding it."
— Mediaite (@Mediaite) January 8, 2018
While NBC is separate from its news arm, NBC News, it wasn't just Trump supporters who found the tweet disturbing. "Call me old fashioned but a major network saying this, no matter how you feel about Oprah, bothers me a lot," tweeted Anthony De Rosa, the digital production manager of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Others noted the irony of the tweet coming from the NBC account:
Which network put The Apprentice on the air again? And kept the sitting president on as a EP? https://t.co/N4wwrrlV68
— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) January 8, 2018
Even former President George W. Bush's press secretary, Ari Fleischer, weighed in. "This tweet puts every reporter at NBC in a bad spot," he tweeted. "Foolish thing for them to do. But at least now they are open about their bias." Jeva Lange
Update 10:41 a.m.: NBC removed the tweet and released the following statement:
Yesterday a tweet about the Golden Globes and Oprah Winfrey was sent by a third party agency for NBC Entertainment in real time during the broadcast. It is in reference to a joke made during the monologue and not meant to be a political statement. We have since removed the tweet.
— NBC (@nbc) January 8, 2018