FOLLOW THE WEEK ON FACEBOOK
March 20, 2017

President Trump on Monday dismissed widespread reports of Russia's meddling in the presidential election as "FAKE NEWS." In a series of tweets, Trump alleged Democrats "made up and pushed the Russian story," seemingly referring to the FBI- and CIA-backed reports that Russia interfered in the election to dash Hillary Clinton's chances, thus helping Trump.

Trump claimed Democrats fabricated the story "as an excuse for running a terrible campaign":

Trump then noted former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's remark earlier this month that a paper compiled by the DNI, NSA, FBI, and CIA included "no evidence" of Trump associates' collusion with Russia. Clapper said neither he nor the agencies had uncovered any "evidence of such collusion."

Top House Intelligence Committee Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.) later said he was "surprised" by Clapper's comment because he did not think that claim could be made "categorically." "I would characterize it this way: At the outset of the investigation, there was circumstantial evidence of collusion," Schiff said. "There was direct evidence, I think, of deception."

Later Monday, FBI Director James Comey and NSA chief Mike Rogers will testify before Congress about possible connections between Trump's campaign and Russia. Becca Stanek

9:52 p.m. ET
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, President Trump said "there is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea," but he is hopeful that the U.S. can find other ways to work with the country regarding its nuclear and missile programs.

"We'd love to solve things diplomatically, but it's very difficult," Trump said. The Trump administration has called North Korea an "urgent national security threat and top foreign policy priority," and on Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to urge the U.N. Security Council to enact more sanctions against Pyongyang. When asked about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump noted that he was 27 when his father died and he took over as ruler. "So say what you want but that is not easy, especially at that age," Trump said. "I'm not giving him credit or not giving him credit. I'm just saying that's a very hard thing to do. As to whether or not he's rational, I have no opinion on it. I hope he's rational."

Trump also had kind words for Chinese President Xi Jinping and his attempts to keep North Korea in check. "I believe he is trying very hard," he told Reuters. "He certainly doesn't want to see turmoil and death. He doesn't want to see it. He is a good man. He is a very good man and I got to know him very well." Catherine Garcia

8:52 p.m. ET
Elsa/Getty Images

On Thursday night, the Cleveland Browns selected Myles Garrett as the first overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Garrett, a 6-foot-4, 272 pound defensive lineman at Texas A&M, is the first player from the university to be the top overall pick. An All-American, he recorded 31 sacks over three years, and is the fourth defensive player since 2000 to be the draft's first selection. The 21-year-old was with friends and family at the Tierra Verde Golf Club in Arlington, Texas, when he heard the news. Catherine Garcia

8:06 p.m. ET

Traveling at a speed of 77,000 mph, NASA's Cassini spacecraft made its first dive inside Saturn's rings, transmitting back to Earth on Thursday the closest-ever images of the planet.

Cassini has been exploring Saturn for 13 years, and on Wednesday, became the first spacecraft to enter the gap between Saturn and its innermost ring. "Cassini spacecraft has once again blazed a trail, showing us new wonders and demonstrating where our curiosity can take us if we dare," NASA planetary sciences chief Jim Green said in a statement. The pictures it sent back showed a hurricane, clouds, and a six-sided vortex weather system, Reuters reports.

Having been in space since 2004, Cassini is running low on fuel, and is expected to make 22 trips in the territory between Saturn's cloud tops and rings before it destroys itself on Sept. 15 by flying directly into Saturn's atmosphere (NASA is doing this so Cassini doesn't accidentally hit a moon that could support microbial life). Scientists are hoping Cassini will survive all of these dives, and that the information it collects on Saturn's inner moons, winds, clouds, and auroras can explain the source of Saturn's magnetic field and how fast the planet rotates. Catherine Garcia

7:16 p.m. ET
Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Senate voted 60-38 on Thursday to confirm Alexander Acosta, a former U.S. attorney, as labor secretary.

The 48-year-old is the only Latino in President Trump's Cabinet. Trump's first choice for the job, former CKE Restaurants CEO Andrew Puzder, withdrew his nomination after it became clear he would not get enough votes for confirmation. The labor secretary enforces laws involving the workplace and unions. Catherine Garcia

6:35 p.m. ET
Scott Olson/Getty Images

David Dao, the 69-year-old doctor who was dragged off an overbooked United flight earlier this month to the horror of his fellow passengers, has settled with the airline for an undisclosed amount of money.

His attorney, Thomas Demetrio, said that under the settlement, the sum must remain confidential. His client was on a packed flight to Louisville from Chicago on April 9 when he was chosen at random to give up his seat to a crew member who needed to get to Kentucky to work on another flight; Dao refused, and authorities were called. They forcibly removed him from the flight, with other passengers recording the incident, sparking a major public relations disaster for United once the video went viral. Dao's attorneys have said he suffered a broken nose and concussion and lost two teeth.

The settlement came before Dao even filed a lawsuit, and will save United money on legal fees. Demetrio told The Associated Press he hopes "corporate America notices when you goof up, people respect you a heck of a lot more when you admit it, instead of making people go through three years of depositions, motions, court hearings." Catherine Garcia

5:11 p.m. ET

In the U.S. House of Representatives, Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman represents a western portion of the San Fernando Valley, which is located in Southern California. This is important, because you may have heard the Golden State has loosened its restrictions on the sale of marijuana and has generally been considered a bastion of bud in the nation.

As someone tasked with representing these constituents, then, Sherman should be knowledgeable about marijuana. Fret not, Valley-dwellers, because apparently he has been so thorough in his research that he is even aware of weed's potential to be exploited for nefarious wartime provocations by our enemies. He revealed as much in a pair of tweets Wednesday night regarding his chosen discussion points for a classified briefing about North Korea with Vice President Mike Pence:

Improbably, Sherman is not the first U.S. congressman to voice this concern. In February, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) told CNN's Brianna Keilar, "I can suggest to you that there are national security implications here for a porous border. We sometimes used to make the point that if someone wanted to smuggle in a dangerous weapon, even a nuclear weapon, into America, how would they do it? And the suggestion was made: Well, we'll simply hide it in a bale of marijuana."

For the record, a bale of marijuana is generally considered to weigh but a few dozen pounds. The W54, one of the smallest nuclear warheads ever used by the U.S., weighed around 50 pounds. Kimberly Alters

3:28 p.m. ET
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Convicted murderer Kenneth Williams is scheduled to be put to death Thursday at 7 p.m. CT in what would be Arkansas' fourth execution of the month, BuzzFeed News reports. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) had originally announced eight executions for April, but so far only three have been carried out while four others have been put on hold by different courts. The state is hurrying to carry out capital punishment before the supply of one of its three execution drugs expires at the end of the month.

To date, the state Supreme Court has denied two of Williams' requests for a stay; his lawyers filed a new lawsuit Thursday.

Read The Week's Anthony L. Fisher on why Arkansas' executions are a really big deal here. Jeva Lange

See More Speed Reads