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July 23 2017 8:38 PM

Schumer Takes Aim at Clinton: Don’t Blame Russia or Comey, “Blame Yourself”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a thinly veiled message to Hillary Clinton, saying that “you blame yourself” if you “lose to somebody who has 40 percent popularity.” Schumer never explicitly mentioned Clinton but there was little doubt who he was talking about while discussing the broad effort by the Democratic Party to come up with a new messaging strategy ahead of next year’s midterm elections.

“When you lose to somebody who has 40 percent popularity, you don’t blame other things — Comey, Russia—you blame yourself,” Schumer said in an interview with the Washington Post. “So what did we do wrong? People didn’t know what we stood for, just that we were against Trump. And still believe that.” A recent poll found that 52 percent of Americans think the Democratic Party “just stands against Trump” while only 37 percent think it actually “stands for something.”

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Clinton has taken responsibility for her loss, although she has also mentioned a variety of factors that contributed to the results in November, including the decision by then-FBI chief James Comey to reopen the investigation into her emails near the end of the campaign. She has also mentioned Russia’s well-reported efforts to affect the outcome of the election.

Schumer spoke to the Post ahead of the unveiling of the new Democratic Party economic platform on Monday that has been dubbed “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the new plan “is not a course correction, but it’s a presentation correction.” That has led to concern from outside the Beltway that Democrats don’t think they actually need to change policies, only how they are presented to voters. “Republicans talk in headlines; Democrats speak in fine print,” explained Rep. Hakeem Jeffries from New York. “That ends this week. We’re going to make sure that we’re able to reach the American people in a clear and compelling fashion.”

So what will the plan entail? Democrats are keeping their cards close to their chest for now but Schumer said on ABC’s This Week that the goal is to appeal to both the Obama coalition and the voters that abandoned the party in favor of Trump. “Week after week, month after month, we're going to roll out specific pieces here, that are quite different than the Democratic Party you heard in the past,” Schumer said. “We were too cautious. We were too namby-pamby.”

July 23 2017 7:13 PM

New York Times Demands Apology From Fox for “Malicious” al-Baghdadi Story

The New York Times wants an apology from Fox News. In an unusual letter sent on Sunday afternoon, the paper is calling on its competitor to apologize for a report that aired on Fox & Friends that said the Times was to blame for the 2015 escape of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The report appears to have inspired President Donald Trump to write a tweet criticizing the newspaper on Saturday morning: “The Failing New York Times foiled U.S. attempt to kill the single most wanted terrorist, al-Baghdadi.” The Fox and Friends segment aired around 25 minutes before Trump sent out the tweet.

“I am writing on behalf of The New York Times to request an on-air apology and tweet from Fox & Friends in regards to a malicious and inaccurate segment ‘NY Times leak allowed ISIS leader to slip away’,” wrote Danielle Rhoades Ha, vice president of communications for the New York Times. "Neither the staff at Fox & Friends, nor the writers of a related story on Foxnews.com, appeared to make any attempt to confirm relevant facts, nor did they reach out to The New York Times for comment."

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Fox pushed back against the Times criticism, saying it took the paper almost 48 hours to raise a complaint. "The FoxNews.com story was already updated online and Fox & Friends will also provide an updated story to viewers tomorrowmorning based on the FoxNews.com report," a Fox News spokesperson said in a statement. "For all of their hyperventilating to the media about a correction, the New York Times didn't reach out to anyone at Fox News until Sunday afternoon for a story that ran Friday night."

The Fox report was partly based on comments by Gen. Tony Thomas, the head of the United States Special Operations Command, who said in an interview that a valuable lead on Baghdadi’s location “was leaked in a prominent national newspaper about a week later and that lead went dead.” The general never mentioned the Times but Fox said he was referring to a June 2015 story that reported  U.S. intelligence agencies obtained “valuable information” from a raid in Syria.

In a detailed breakdown of how “Trump got it wrong” in his tweet, the Times notes the Pentagon itself had made the information available in a news release that was issued three weeks before the Times article. “No senior American official complained publicly about the story until now, more than two years later,” the Times letter to Fox said. The paper said it is seeking clarification from the White House about the president’s tweet, but in the meantime it is calling on Fox to apologize. Even though the piece was based on a “misleading assertion by Gen. Thomas … that does not alleviate Fox News of the obligation to seek information from all the stakeholders in a story.” By moving forward with the piece, “Fox & Friends demonstrated what little regard it has for reporting facts.”

*This piece has been updated with new information since it was first published.

July 23 2017 6:03 PM

Trump Angrily Lashes Out at Republicans for Failing to “Protect Their President”

President Donald Trump didn’t end his weekend on a cheerful note. In an unusual pair of Sunday afternoon tweets, the president hit out at Republican lawmakers, saying some who owe their positions to his candidacy’s coattails are leaving him on his own. “As the phony Russian Witch Hunt continues, two groups are laughing at this excuse for a lost election taking hold, Democrats and Russians!” Trump wrote shortly after 4 p.m.

Six minutes later, the commander in chief followed up with another tweet: “It's very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their President.”

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Trump wrote his two tweets about an hour after he returned to the White House from the Trump National Golf Club in Virginia. It’s unclear exactly what got the president so worked up on Sunday afternoon but his pair of tweets came shortly after his new press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said Trump would sign a bill that severely curtails his ability to lift Russian sanctions unilaterally. Earlier in the day, Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications chief, said the president still had not made up his mind about whether Russia attempted to interfere in last year’s presidential election.

July 23 2017 1:40 PM

Trump Still Isn’t Sure Whether Russia Meddled in U.S. Presidential Election

The consensus of the country’s intelligence agencies—and even his own national security advisers—are apparently not enough to convince President Donald Trump, who still isn’t quite sure whether Russia tried to interfere in the U.S. presidential race. “He called me from Air Force One and he basically said to me, 'Hey, you know, maybe they did do it, maybe they didn't do it’,” the new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, said on CNN. Apparently Trump still likes to say that if Russians really were responsible for the hacks of the Democratic National Committee no one would have found out about it because they would not have gotten caught.

Scaramucci went on to criticize the media for continuing to pursue the story. “What are you guys suggesting?” he asked. “You’re going to delegitimize his victory?” No one should worry about the president being lenient on Moscow, Scaramucci added, noting that as he makes up his mind about whether Russia tried to meddle in the election he will act. "A person that's going to be super, super tough on Russia is President Donald J. Trump," Scaramucci said.

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The new White House communications chief also dismissed any concerns about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign. "The kid took a nothing meeting,” he said of the president's 39-year-old son. “It was a non-event.”

Scaramucci also declined to state whether Trump will attempt to veto legislation that would impose new sanctions on Russia, and curtail the president’s abilities to lift them without the approval of Congress. “You’ve got to ask President Trump that,” he said on CNN. “It’s my second or third day on the job. My guess is he’s going to make that decision shortly.”

On another Sunday talk show though, it sounded like Trump had already made a decision to sign the bill. “The administration is supportive of being tough on Russia, particularly in putting these sanctions in place,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was promoted to press secretary on Friday, said on ABC’s This Week. “The original piece of legislation was poorly written, but we were able to work with the House and Senate, and the administration is happy with the ability to do that and make those changes that were necessary and we support where the legislation is now.”

July 23 2017 12:38 PM

Scaramucci Vows “Dramatic Action” to Stop Leaks From the White House

The new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, made his debut in the Sunday talk shows, where he repeatedly warned he is ready to fire anyone who is caught leaking information to the press. “We have to get the leaks stopped,” Scaramucci said on Fox News Sunday. “What’s going on right now is a high level of unprofessionalism, and it’s not helping the president. … I will take drastic action to stop the leaks.” Part of that effort will include getting rid of people as Scaramucci said he is ready to “pare down the staff” at the communications office to stop the leaks. "It’s not fair to the president. It’s actually not fair to America."

Scaramucci said on CBS he will be meeting with the communications staff at the White House on Monday with a clear message: If you leak, you get fired. “I'm just going to make it very, very clear, okay? Tomorrow I'm going to have a staff meeting. And it's going to be a very binary thing,” Scaramucci said when CBS’ John Dickerson asked him what he’ll do with any leakers. “I'm not going to make any prejudgments about anybody on that staff. If they want to stay on the staff, they're going to stop leaking.” He also offered up the message by way of a pun: “We're as strong as our weakest leak.”

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Dealing with leakers is just one way in which Scaramucci hinted he could make major changes to the way the White House communicates with the public. “There's obviously a communications problem, because there's a lot that we've done as it relates to executive orders, bills that have been signed, economic progress—I don't want to cite all the economic data, but the economy is super-strong, business optimism is way up,” Scaramucci said on CNN. “I just think we need to deliver the messaging a little bit differently than we've been doing it in the past.”

One of those changes could involve going back to making White House press briefings open to the cameras, although Scaramucci emphasized the president is the one who will have the final word on that. “I think we should put the cameras on,” he said. “But if the president doesn't want the cameras on, we're not going to put the cameras on. It's going to really be up to him.”

July 23 2017 11:29 AM

Eight Found Dead in Sweltering Truck at Walmart Parking Lot in Texas

Police officers in San Antonio discovered at least eight bodies inside a hot tractor-trailer that was parked outside a Walmart on Sunday morning. (Update at 6 p.m.: The death toll has increased to nine as one person died in an area hospital.) Around 30 more people were found inside the truck, 20 of whom were described as being in serious condition and transferred to area hospitals in what authorities say looks like a human trafficking crime. The dead and injured were “victims of ruthless human smugglers indifferent to the well-being of their fragile cargo,” said Richard L. Durbin Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas.

Police said they got the tip about the truck from a Walmart employee who was making rounds late Saturday night and was approached by someone from the truck “asking for water.” The employee handed over the water but quickly called the police, who immediately arrested the driver of the truck. Officials said they believe the eight men who died succumbed to heat exposure and asphyxiation but said the medical examiner will determine the official cause of death. "They were very hot to the touch. So these people were in this trailer without any signs of any type of water," San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood said. "It was a mass casualty situation for us." Most of those in the truck were adults in their 20s and 30s but there were also two school-age children in the group.

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Security camera footage from the parking lot showed several cars arriving to pick up people who had survived the journey. Officials still don’t know where the truck came from and where it was headed but cautioned that this was “not an isolated incident” and residents should keep their eyes peeled. “Fortunately we came across this one, fortunately there are people who survived. But this happens all the time,” San Antonio Police Chief William McManus told reporters.

July 23 2017 9:47 AM

McCain’s Primary Challenger Calls on Him to Step Aside After Brain Cancer Diagnosis

Sen. John McCain’s former primary challenger didn’t wait long to say that he should step down from office following this week’s devastating news about his health. One day after McCain’s brain cancer diagnosis was revealed, Kelli Ward, who ran against McCain last year, was already talking about the possibility of taking over his Senate seat. “I hope Sen. McCain is going to look long and hard at this, that his family and his advisers are going to look at this, and they’re going to advise him to step away as quickly as possible, so that the business of the country and the business of Arizona being represented at the federal level can move forward,” Ward said during an interview on Thursday.

Ward, a physician and former state senator who is now running against Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, said that even though “as a Christian, I know there can always be miracles” the “likelihood that John McCain is going to be able to come back to the Senate and be at full force for the people of our state and the people of the United States is low.” She then mentioned that if McCain does step aside, Arizona’s governor would have to appoint someone to fill the seat until the 2018 election. When she was asked whether her name should be considered for that position, Ward didn’t hesitate: “Well, you know, I certainly hope so. Because, you know, I have a proven track record from years in the state Senate of being extremely effective and of listening to the voice of the people that I represent.”

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Lest you think this was an unplanned statement that she later regretted, Ward posted a statement on her website noting that McCain “owes it to the people of Arizona to step aside” when he can no longer perform his duties at the Senate. “The medical reality of his diagnosis is grim,” Ward wrote. “The Senate has complicated and difficult problems to deal with and Arizona deserves to be represented by someone who can focus on those challenges.”

McCain has given no indication that he’s ready to step down from office, even tweeting recently that he’ll be “back soon.”

Many were taken aback by Ward’s comments so soon after McCain’s diagnosis was made public, including her primary opponent. “John McCain is a fighter and an American hero. I fully expect to see him back in the Senate soon,” Flake said. “I’m dumbstruck by Kelli Ward’s comments.” Twitter users were quick to criticize Ward for what was often seen as political opportunism at a time of personal tragedy. “Leave it to Kelli Ward to see Sen. John McCain’s brain tumor as an opportunity for personal advancement,” wrote Laurie Roberts at the Arizona Republic.

Despite the widespread criticism, Ward didn’t back off and continued to push the message during another radio interview on Friday. Ward insisted that if McCain is debilitated then “of course he should step aside.” The radio hosts didn’t hesitate to tell Ward exactly what they thought with one calling the physician a “vulture” who appears to be “dancing” on McCain’s grave. “I got to tell you, Dr. Ward. Have you no shame? I mean, I think this is low class. I think you’re kicking the man when he’s down, the week he’s diagnosed with brain cancer, with really what I believe is a despicable comment,” one of the hosts said. Ward pushed back against the characterization of what she was trying to say, insisting the radio hosts were putting words in her mouth.

In another interview she said her comments show how she’s a straight shooter: “whenever I’m asked a question, I don’t know, I give an answer. I guess unlike most politicians who would just skirt around the issue I take things directly—and I’m going to continue to do so.”

This isn’t the first time Ward has received national attention for her comments on McCain’s health. In an interview with Politico last year, Ward said McCain was too old to be senator and would likely die on the job.

McCain’s office has not commented on Ward’s statements as the senator has stayed out of the spotlight since his diagnosis was announced. The senator’s daughter, Meghan McCain, wrote on Twitter Saturday that she went on a hike with her father.

July 22 2017 7:55 PM

Congress Defies Trump by Agreeing to New Sanctions Against Russia

Congressional leaders have reached an agreement on a set of sweeping sanctions against Russia as punishment for meddling in the U.S. election as well as its military aggression, which essentially would prevent President Donald Trump from unilaterally removing sanctions on Russia. The measure, which also allows new sanctions against Iran and North Korea, is scheduled for a vote in the House of Representatives on Tuesday. The Senate passed a previous version of the bill nearly unanimously last month.

The agreement between Republican and Democratic leaders was reached despite the White House's persistent lobbying against the measure that it says interferes with Executive authority. If approved in Congress, Trump will face a tough choice of whether to veto the bill, which would lead to accusations that he is doing the Kremlin’s bidding, or approve something his administration has opposed. Two senior administration officials told the New York Times they don’t foresee the president vetoing the bill given the current controversy surrounding his campaign’s contacts with Russian officials. But no one is willing to place bets quite yet. “As ever, Mr. Trump retains the capacity to surprise, and this would be his first decision about whether to veto a significant bill,” notes the Times.

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Chances of a veto could also be far-fetched considering how it would involve expending political capital without any likely gains. The bill will be considered under an expedited process for uncontroversial legislation that requires a two-thirds majority to pass. That should, at least theoretically, mean the bill will be veto-proof.

Under the measure, Trump must seek approval from Congress before taking any action that would “significantly alter” U.S. foreign policy with Russia, including easing sanctions. Congress would then have 30 days to accept or reject the proposed changes. The extent of the involvement of House Democrats in any review process was a key point of debate but Democrats say they’re satisfied with the final outcome. "The legislation ensures that both the majority and minority are able to exercise our oversight role over the administration's implementation of sanctions," Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland said.

Other Democratic leaders expressed optimism that the bill will be on the president’s desk before the August recess. “A nearly united Congress is poised to send President Putin a clear message on behalf of the American people and our allies, and we need President Trump to help us deliver that message,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

July 22 2017 6:48 PM

Trump’s New Communications Director Deletes Old Tweets to Avoid “Distraction”

The new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, appears to have quickly grown weary of the internet reminding him about his past and how his views didn’t always align with those of his new boss, President Donald Trump. On Saturday, Scaramucci acknowledged what many had already noticed: he was deleting old tweets. “Past views evolved & shouldn’t be a distraction. I serve @POTUS agenda & that’s all that matters,” he wrote.

Nearly two hours later, Scaramucci seemed to explain his decision further, writing that “the politics of ‘gotcha’ are over. I have thick skin and we're moving on to @POTUS agenda serving the American people.”

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Scaramucci’s old tweets in which he bashed his new boss, praised Hillary Clinton, and supported gun control quickly made the rounds on social media as soon as he was appointed. Some have since been deleted, but many on Twitter took screen captures to make sure his old messages would be immortalized.

Some of the first tweets to disappear were the most explicitly anti-Trump. One, for example, referred to Trump’s campaign as a “spectacle.” Another tweet attacked former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich for his support of Trump, calling him “smart with no judgment.” He also praised Mitt Romney for not joining the Trump team. Scaramucci also deleted an old tweet in which he praised Clinton, expressing “hope” that she runs for president because “she is incredibly competent.”

Scaramucci hasn’t deleted all his old tweets praising Clinton. At least not yet. “I like Hillary. Have to go with the best athlete. We need to turn this around,” he wrote in 2012.

Some of the deleted tweets weren’t about people, but issues. “We (the USA) has 5% of the world's population but 50% of the world's guns,” he wrote in a deleted tweet. “Enough is enough. It is just common sense it apply more controls.” But he has not been uniform in his deletions. Another tweet in which Scaramucci says that he has “always been for strong gun control laws” is still up.

Scaramucci also removed a tweet in which he called it "disheartening" that there are people who still think climate cange is a "hoax" and another where he criticized Trump’s plan to build a wall along the border with Mexico: “Walls don't work. Never have never will. The Berlin Wall 1961-1989 don't fall for it.” But he has yet to delete an old tweet in which he said he was “against the death penalty, and Pro Choice.”

During a White House briefing on Friday, Scaramucci apologized for some of his old criticism of Trump. “He brings it up every 15 seconds, OK? One of the biggest mistakes I made, because I was an inexperienced person in the world of politics,” he said. “I was supporting another candidate. I should have never said that about him. So Mr. President, if you’re listening, I personally apologize for the 50th time for saying that.”

July 22 2017 1:25 PM

Minneapolis Police Chief Forced Out After Fatal Shooting of Australian Bride-to-Be

Growing protests against the police in Minneapolis following the killing of an Australian woman led to the ouster of the city’s police chief, Janee Harteau, who resigned at the mayor’s request. “I’ve lost confidence in the chief’s ability to lead us further,” Mayor Betsy Hodges said shorty after the resignation that came less than a week after police shot and killed Justine Damond, who had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault. Two officers responded and one of them shot Damond in a confusing incident. Neither of the two officers had turned on their body cameras.

The shooting of Damond, a native of Australia who had moved to Mineappolis to be with her fiancé, has become an international incident as her relatives and even Australia’s prime minister are calling for clarity about what happened.

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“We are demanding answers on behalf of her family, and our hearts go out to her family and all of her friends and loved ones,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a television interview. “It’s a truly tragic, tragic killing … something clearly went tragically wrong.”

In a statement, Harteau said she had “decided to step aside” to let a “fresh set of leadership eyes” try to figure out how to improve the department. “The recent incidents do not reflect the training and procedures we developed as a department,” Harteau said in a statement. “Despite the MPD’s many accomplishments under my leadership over these years and my love for the City, I have to put the communities we serve first.” Earlier, she had said the shooting was the result of “one individual’s actions” that shouldn’t reflect on the police department as a whole.

Harteau had served as the city’s first female, first openly gay, and first Native American police chief. Her tenure was plagued with complaints about police tactics and two years ago the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man led to weeks of protests. Activists were quick to point out that Harteau spoke up about Damond, who was white, when she regularly defended officers involved in shootings of black people. “She is attempting to paint this as an isolated case based on one officer’s poor judgment as opposed to a systemic pattern,” an activist tells the New York Times.

The resignation came after days of protests that continued on Friday night. In fact, Hodges was forced to delay a news conference when protesters interrupted and called for her resignation. Hodges has said she won’t be resigning and nominated Assistance Police Chief Medaria Arradondo to take over the department.

There may soon be more clarity about what happened that night as a witness to Damond’s shooting has been located and is cooperating. The witness apparently filmed at least part of the encounter that led to Damond’s death, according to a source who talked to the Star Tribune.

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