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Vox Sentences: BREAKING — White House starting to realize they're in deep shit

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You will be shocked and appalled to learn that Donald Trump said some stuff to some Russians that he probably shouldn’t have.


Comey’s a nut! He’s crazy in the coconut.

A very eventful chat with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.
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Alexander Shcherbak/TASS via Getty Images
  • It’s late on a weekday, and that means there’s a lot more Trump/Russia news, my friends.
  • First up: The New York Times reports that President Trump told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Ambassador Sergey Kislyak (to whom he also famously leaked classified intel about ISIS), "I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I face great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off." [NYT / Matt Apuzzo, Maggie Haberman, and Matthew Rosenberg]
  • Good times. White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded to the scoop in a statement: "By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia's actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia." That's a pretty startling statement, given that it explicitly explains the decision to fire Comey in terms of the Russia investigation, which just last week the White House was denying had anything to do with the firing. [Ben Jacobs]
  • Meanwhile, the Washington Post is reporting that a current senior White House adviser is a person of interest in the FBI's investigation into coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. [Washington Post / Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky]
  • The Post didn’t specify who this person is, but speculation immediately turned to Jared Kushner, who failed to disclose meetings with Russian officials in his security clearance paperwork. [NYT / Jo Becker and Matthew Rosenberg]
  • Yashar Ali, a freelance reporter, claims to have confirmed that the report is about Kushner. He said this in a tweet, though, without an accompanying story clarifying the sourcing, so take it with a grain or two of salt. [Yashar Ali]
  • Another sign it might be Kushner: Apparently the White House is considering invoking an obscure ethics rule that would bar special prosecutor Robert Mueller from investigating clients of his firm (WilmerHale). Those clients include Paul Manafort and … Jared Kushner. [Reuters / Julia Edwards Ainsley​]
  • In interpreting this, keep in mind that "person of interest" has no specific legal meaning and doesn't necessarily mean "suspect." This doesn't mean Jared Kushner or anybody else is about to be indicted, or suspected of criminal misconduct. But it’s, uh, not good. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • Nor is Trump telling Russians how nice it is to have this Comey jerk off his back. Indeed, it seems to suggest a bigger problem with Trump's personal communication style. One White House source told CNN, "It can be difficult to advise the President effectively given his seemingly short attention span and propensity to be easily distracted. You can't say what not to say, because that will then be one of the first things he'll say." [CNN / Jake Tapper]
  • This is the president of the United States we’re talking about, just as a reminder.
  • Trump’s comments to the Russians could also provide ammo if he’s eventually accused of obstruction of justice. They lend credibility to the idea that he fired Comey to impede the investigation into collusion with Russia during the campaign. [Washington Post / Aaron Blake]
  • Indeed, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told senators that the investigation has been expanded to include looking into a possible cover-up — and that this expansion happened because of reports that Trump ordered Comey to scuttle an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. [McClatchy / Matthew Schofield and Lesley Clark]
  • CNN is reporting that the White House's legal team has begun researching impeachment procedures to prepare for the possibility that Congress might try to remove Trump. [CNN / Evan Perez]
  • At this point, we mostly need to wait. Mueller has expansive powers to indict White House officials and other figures he thinks have committed criminal offenses, but if indictments come, it won’t be for a little while at least.
  • But we could also learn a lot when James Comey testifies before an open Senate Intelligence Committee hearing — as he has agreed to do, as of very late Friday. [Washington Post]

It’s a jolly holiday with Donnie

Donald Trump Arrives In West Palm Beach For Presidents Day Weekend Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • Donald Trump picked a great time to go out of town on his first foreign trip, wouldn’t you say? [Vox / Jennifer Williams]
  • Here’s the thing. Presidential trips abroad are difficult and unpredictable even under the best circumstances. [Dana Perino via Twitter]
  • They’re even harder when the first trip is an eight-day, multi-country jaunt to the Middle East and Europe (instead of the traditional first trip to Mexico or Canada) and you have a president who really hates sleeping anywhere but his own bed. [NYT / Michael D. Shear and Maggie Haberman]
  • And harder still when the president doesn’t have a lot of key regional or national security staff with him, and doesn’t really listen to the ones he does have. [CNN / Jake Tapper]
  • Luckily, Trump is starting off his trip in Saudi Arabia, where the Saudi government is thrilled to see him — and where the intercultural fanfare includes a men-only concert with a Saudi musician and country singer Toby Keith. [The National Interest / Ivan Plis]
  • The Saudis have good reason to be excited — the US has just inked a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, thanks, in part, to personal lobbying of the head of Lockheed Martin by one Jared Kushner. [NYT / Mark Landler, Eric Schmitt, and Matt Apuzzo]
  • They might be less pleased when Trump gives a speech on terrorism written by Stephen Miller — one of Trump’s most Islamophobic advisors. [LAT / Lisa Mascaro]
  • Trump then heads to Israel, where he’ll be giving a speech (also written by Miller) on Judaism — which will probably be parsed heavily by an Israeli political class that is, shall we say, somewhat confused by Trump’s behavior to them as president. [Vox / Jennifer Williams]
  • The Israeli intelligence community has passed confused and landed firmly on livid, among reports that Trump burned a key Israeli source on ISIS when he bragged to the Russians about classified information last week. [Foreign Policy / Kavitha Surana, Dan De Luce, and Robbie Gramer]
  • Later in the trip, Trump will attend summits of NATO and the G7, where other world leaders have been told to keep their remarks short and praise him for his election victory… [NYT / Peter Baker]
  • And where, at the G7 at least, the administration is trying to push the global refugee crisis off the agenda entirely, presumably on the logic that if the most powerful nations on earth don’t discuss it, it will resolve itself on its own. [Humanosphere / Tom Murphy​]

Iran so far away

Iranian women voting in Tehran. Majid Saeedi/Getty Images
  • Polls are now closed and vote counting is beginning in the Iranian presidential election. Early indications are that incumbent Hassan Rouhani is set to be reelected, defeating hardliner Ebrahim Raisi. [BBC]
  • Western governments are interpreting the election as a referendum on the 2015 deal that Rouhani cut with the US and other Western powers to limit the country's nuclear program. But domestically, much of the debate centers on the country's economic problems and the candidates' debate over freedom of expression. [NYT / Thomas Erdbrink]
  • Raisi's victory would have huge ramifications for diplomacy, and almost certainly end the nuclear deal. It would also make him the frontrunner to succeed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the country’s supreme leader. [The Guardian / Emma Graham-Harrison]
  • That has given him some odd fans — like former Reagan/Bush official, noted neoconservative, and convicted criminal Elliott Abrams, who wrote a piece championing Raisi, saying, "Raisi is the true face of the Islamic Republic, while Rouhani is a façade. … We are far better off, as we were when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president, when there are no illusions about Iran’s regime and the men who lead it." [Politico Mag / Elliott Abrams]
  • The political coalitions in Iran are a bit distinct from those in the US or most Western countries. The religious hardliners tend to support bigger welfare state programs, in particular a program initiated by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that provides unconditional cash directly to households, financed by oil revenues. [NYT / Thomas Erdbrink]
  • Raisi has promised to boost those payments, while Rouhani has argued that the program (which bears a lot of similarities to “basic income” proposals in the US and elsewhere) discourages work. A new study suggests it doesn’t reduce work at all — but does direct a lot of money to poor people. [Economic Research Forum / Djavad Salehi-Isfahani and Mohammed Mostafavi-Dehzooei]
  • None of that is to defend Raisi or Ahmadinejad at all. But politics in any country is complicated, and not defined solely by the policies that (correctly) elicit outrage in the US.

Miscellaneous

  • If you have ever worn a fringed “flapper” dress to a theme party, you have been living a lie. [Racked / Zoë Berry]
  • Jim Bakker's career as a televangelist collapsed very publicly in the late 1980s, as he was accused of rape and sentenced to 45 years in federal prison (of which he served five). Now he's back, predicting the apocalypse and selling food for doomsday prep, and defending Donald Trump, whose election he called "the greatest miracle I have ever seen." [BuzzFeed / Kelsey McKinney]
  • For the first time in American history, women in their 30s are having more babies than women in their 20s. [Slate / Nora Caplan-Bricker]
  • Zaan Scott was paralyzed in an armed robbery in DC last month. He was recovering, and hoping to marry his fiancée — until he died, just as the Washington Post's photographer was taking photos for a story. [Washington Post / Petula Dvorak]
  • When you hear the word "radicalization," you probably think first about recruitment into Islamic fundamentalism. But it's time to start thinking about "redpilling," and recruitment by racist/misogynistic communities on 4chan and Reddit, as a form of radicalization. [NY Mag / Alice Marwick and Becca Lewis]

Verbatim

  • "'He was too annoying,' Matti said. 'Even for ISIS. They were just fed up with him. He is very strange.'" [Guernica / Jennifer Percy]
  • “I am sexually attracted to everyone in the DuckTales cast.” [Observer / Dana Schwartz]
  • “You know what else is a free library? A regular library.” [Jane Schmidt to CityLab / Kriston Capps]
  • “For $65,000 [in full attendance costs], you can bet your sweet ass that I’m calling that school. ... If your children aren’t getting what they’ve been promised, colleges are going to get that phone call from parents.” [Anonymous to the Atlantic / Laura McKenna]
  • “When we spoke, his ‘messy family’ of longtime colleagues at the scene shop were preparing eggs for lunch, as is their custom. ‘They cook right in the middle of the office,’ Lee said. ‘It’s kind of touching, really.’” [Village Voice / Molly Fitzpatrick]

Watch this: Fox News’s 5 steps for handling a Trump scandal

In a week full of Trump scandals, Fox News is teaching a master class in how to play defense for the president. [YouTube / Carlos Maza, Coleman Lowndes]


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