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April 21, 2017

At a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni on Thursday, President Trump called the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti a "friend of mine, great friend of mine." Well, said Jimmy Kimmel on Thursday's Kimmel Live, "that's an interesting statement to make, because Luciano Pavarotti has been dead since 2007. He's been dead for 10 years, so it kind of makes you wonder about how deep their friendship is." Apparently just mentioning Pavarotti's name is enough to conjure up his angelically voiced ghost, at least on network TV, so Kimmel asked the ghost if he and Trump were really great friends. You may be able to guess the dead tenor's reply, but if the premise sounds a little freaky, well, it turns out it's meant to be. Watch below. Peter Weber

7:31 a.m. ET
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Dozens of Democratic House candidates are out-raising their Republican opponents, looking a surprising amount like the GOP did eight years ago before capturing the house in the 2010 sweep, Politico reports. "The Democrats in 2017 are starting to very much resemble the Republicans in 2009," said former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Steve Israel. "People are talking about a wave developing, but in order to even begin to think about a wave, you have to be in a position to take advantage in [case of] a wave. And Democrats are clearly in that position."

Even as the Democratic National Committee is struggling to compete nationally with the Republican National Committee — "on-the-ground operatives worry they won't have the resources to build the infrastructure they need to compete effectively in next year's midterms and in the run-up to 2020," Politico wrote Sunday — local House candidates are putting intense pressure on their opponents more than a year ahead of the election. "At least 162 Democratic candidates in 82 GOP-held districts have raised over $100,000 so far this year," Politico found, adding that that's "about four times as many candidates as House Democrats had at this point before the 2016 or 2014 elections," and twice as many as Republicans had before the 2010 wave.

Additionally, Democrats have out-raised nearly three-dozen different Republican incumbents around the country. "That's something that should get every Republican’s attention in Washington," said GOP strategist Jason Roe. "These first-timers are printing money."

In fact, it has — "The fact that the environment is so intense so early is ultimately a good thing, as it makes sure more members will be prepared," observed Republican operative Mike DuHaime. "They can see it coming." Read the full analysis at Politico. Jeva Lange

7:17 a.m. ET
Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

The Central Intelligence Agency's paramilitary branch is stepping up its covert attacks in Afghanistan, deploying small groups of officers and contractors to hunt and kill Taliban militants alongside Afghan commandos, two senior American officials tell The New York Times. The CIA had been focusing its Afghanistan efforts on battling al Qaeda and aiding the Afghan intelligence service, but President Trump and his CIA director, Mike Pompeo, appear to want the agency to play a more aggressive role in the world.

The CIA, with only hundreds of paramilitary officers spread around the world, "has traditionally been resistant to an open-ended campaign against the Taliban, the primary militant group in Afghanistan, believing it was a waste of the agency's time and money and would put officers at greater risk," The New York Times reports. "Former agency officials assert that the military, with its vast resources and manpower, is better suited to conducting large-scale counterinsurgencies." The apparent end goal of killing lower-level Taliban militants is convincing the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. You can read more at The New York Times. Peter Weber

6:09 a.m. ET

In Sunday's half of Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo's interview with President Trump, she asked him about White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's "emotional press conference" on Thursday, following criticism of Trump's condolence call to the widow of Army Sgt. La David Johnson, and whether he was expecting Kelly to have "defended you getting criticism from the Gold Star family — well, the media, really." Trump responded by saying that Kelly "was so offended, because he was in the room when I made the call and so were other people. And the call was a very nice call. He was so offended that a woman would be — that somebody would be listening to that call."

Trump did not name the widow, Myeshia Johnson, or the congresswoman who listened in on the call, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), but he told Bartiromo that he's "called many people, and I would think that every one of them appreciated it," adding: "And by the way, I spoke of the name of the young man and I — it was a really — it's a very tough call." According to Wilson, Myeshia Johnson was partly upset that Trump never said La David's name. At a press briefing on Wednesday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders seemed to confirm that, telling a reporter: "Just because the president says 'your guy' doesn't mean he doesn't know his name."

On Friday, Sanders said there is no transcript of the call, responding to a question about an interview Trump's daughter-in-law Lara Trump gave to Fox News in which she claimed to have seen the transcript. But even in the transcript Lara Trump purports to have seen, Trump called La David Johnson "your husband."

Myeshia Johnson is on Monday's Good Morning America. Maybe she'll clear some of this up. Peter Weber

4:50 a.m. ET
Michal Cizek/AFP/Getty Images

Over the weekend, Czech voters gave a resounding victory to billionaire Andrej Babis and his ANO party, handing the nationalist party 78 seats in the 200-seat Parliament. Babis, the Czech Republic's second-wealthiest man, will now try to form a government coalition with some of the other eight parties that won seats. The surprise second-place finisher, the Civic Democrats (25 seats), similarly don't want the country to adopt the euro currency, but have ruled out governing in coalition with ANO. In third place, with 22 seats each, are the Pirate party and the anti-Muslim far-right SPD party. The former ruling Social Democrats and the Communist are in sixth place, with 15 votes each.

The results are seen as another blow to the European Union, after recent gains by far-right parties in Austria and Germany, and nationalist toeholds elsewhere in Europe. "This has become a general trend — we've seen it in the Dutch elections, in France, in Germany," Vit Dostal, director of the AMO think tank AMO in Prague, tells Bloomberg. "This phenomenon, the rise of anti-establishment parties, shows that there's a widening gap between the winners and losers of globalization. And that in turn generates negative sentiment toward the EU, which is seen as the embodiment of globalization."

Babis, who was charged with criminal fraud before the vote (and now has parliamentary immunity), isn't expected to be as virulently anti-EU as some other of the new nationalist leaders. "He knows how important the EU is for the Czech economy," says Judy Dempsey at Carnegie Europe. "It wouldn't serve his interests." Peter Weber

3:48 a.m. ET

All five living former U.S. presidents gathered in College Station, Texas, on Saturday evening to pay tribute to America's tradition of volunteerism and raise money for the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. At one point, all five ex-presidents — Jimmy Carter, George. H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama — were on stage, and Carter spoke, then Clinton. While Clinton was talking about the enduring disaster in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the younger Bush leaned over to Obama, making him laugh.

You can watch the moment at the 3:35 mark:

Or you can wonder what was so dang funny in this silent clip of the moment Obama cracked up and Bush looked on mischievously:

This was the first time all five former presidents have been together since 2013. Peter Weber

3:03 a.m. ET
Mike Coppola/Getty Images

On Sunday night, an impressive cast of comedians and actors poked fun at and celebrated retired late-night TV legend David Letterman as he accepted the Kennedy Center's 20th Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Letterman's post-Late Show beard was a popular topic. "Dave has always had spot-on comedic instincts," Steve Martin said. "What better time than right now to insist on looking like a Confederate war general?" Amy Schumer joked later that Letterman "has successfully transitioned from a standup comic to a late-night host to a Civil War re-enactor," adding, "I'm glad you didn't look like that when you were the last thing we saw when we were going to bed at night."

Bill Murray, last year's Mark Twain Prize recipient, cracked Letterman up with a rundown of what his new honor means. "You're not exactly a god, but you're way up there," he said. "You will be able to walk up to any man or woman on the street, take a lit cigar out of their mouth, and finish it. You'll be able to board any riverboat in this country." And Letterman's psychiatrist, Clarice Kestenbaum, made a surprise appearance, paraphrasing a typical session: "'I'm dumb. People hate me. I have E.D.' Oh, Jesus, what a f---ing pity party. Don't get me wrong: He's crazy. Not Trump crazy. But who knows?"

Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder played a Warren Zevon song on a guitar with Tom Petty's initials. There was a Top Ten List, Paul Shaffer led the band, and Late Show regulars made appearances. Letterman himself ended the show on a serious note, urging people to be nice to one another ("If you help someone, in any way, big or small, automatically you will feel good about yourself") and quoting Mark Twain's definition of patriotism: "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." PBS will broadcast the entire ceremony on Nov. 20. Peter Weber

1:58 a.m. ET

President Trump may prefer war heroes who were not captured, as he infamously said of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2015, but McCain apparently prefers presidents who did not avoid serving in Vietnam because of bone spurs — a condition Trump says kept him out of the war after his college deferments ran out. In a C-SPAN interview about the Vietnam War broadcast Sunday night, McCain talked about the strategic failings of Vietnam and the social upheaval it unleashed in the U.S., then pointedly criticized economic disparities in the draft:

One aspect of the conflict, by the way, that I will never ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest-income level of America, and the highest-income level found a doctor that would say that they had a bone spur. That is wrong. That is wrong. If we are going to ask every American to serve, every American should serve. [McCain, on C-SPAN]

McCain did not mention Trump by name. And "plenty of wealthy Americans avoided being drafted into Vietnam," with bone spurs "a somewhat common reason for such deferments," Aaron Blake notes at The Washington Post. "But it would be a pretty big coincidence for McCain to bring up that particular ailment — especially in light of his regular criticisms of Trump and his clear allusion to Trump's 'half-baked spurious nationalism' in a speech two days before taping this interview."

That speech, delivered Monday night, was actually aimed more at Stephen Bannon than Trump, McCain's coauthor Mark Salter tells The New York Times. But Trump took it personally, responding in a radio interview: "People have to be careful, because at some point, I fight back. ... I'm being very, very nice. But at some point, I fight back, and it won't be pretty." McCain laughed that off, telling reporters, "I have faced tougher adversaries." Peter Weber

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