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August 11, 2017
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The White House on Friday insisted that President Trump wasn't actually being serious when he thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling hundreds of American diplomats from Russia. "He was being sarcastic," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Trump extended his gratitude to Putin when pressed by reporters Thursday for a statement on Putin's latest move, a response to U.S. sanctions. "As far as I'm concerned I'm very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll," Trump said, noting this will "save a lot of money." Trump also said that there is "no real reason" for the 755 expelled American diplomats "to go back."

Trump's alleged sarcasm didn't go over well in Washington, especially in the midst of the ongoing investigation into Russia's election meddling and the Trump team's potential ties to it. A State Department official said that Trump's comments were "really quite sad," as they underscore the growing sense that Trump "just doesn't get it." A former U.S. ambassador remarked: "For reasons we do not yet know, the president cannot bring himself to criticize Putin." Becca Stanek

2:04 a.m. ET

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper found President Trump's speech Tuesday night in Phoenix "so objectionable on so many levels," and said he worries about Trump's "access to the nuclear codes."

Speaking to CNN's Don Lemon, Clapper said that he worked in some capacity or another for every president from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama, and he can't ever recall watching something "like this from a president that I found more disturbing." Unlike the Trump who spoke Monday night about his strategy in Afghanistan, using carefully scripted words, his rant in Arizona was just like his "unglued" press conference following Charlottesville, where he equated white supremacists to protesters. "This was the real Trump," Clapper said.

Clapper told Lemon he questions Trump's fitness to be president, and is starting to think Trump's outrageous reactions to major events are part of something larger. "Maybe he is looking for a way out," Clapper said, adding that he doesn't "understand the adulation" of Trump's supporters. Above all else, Clapper said, he's concerned about Trump's close proximity to the nuclear codes, and the fact that there is "very little to stop him" if he decided to target North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a fit of pique. "The whole system's built to ensure a rapid response if necessary, so there's very little in the way of controls over exercising a nuclear option, which is pretty damn scary," Clapper said. Catherine Garcia

1:35 a.m. ET
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After watching the events in Charlottesville unfold, a Catholic priest in Virginia came forward with some personal information he had kept under wraps for years: In the 1970s, he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and served jail time for burning crosses.

Fr. William Aitcheson, 62, was a University of Maryland student at the time, he wrote in the Arlington Catholic Herald on Monday, and an "impressionable young man." In March 1977, The Washington Post reported that Aitcheson was a leader of the Robert E. Lee Lodge of the Maryland Knights of the KKK, and he ultimately pleaded guilty to several cross burnings in Prince George's County and charges that he threatened to kill Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.'s widow.

After serving nine months in jail, Aitcheson left for Rome, where he attended seminary. Since being ordained, he has worked in several parishes around the country, and it is unclear how many knew of his involvement in the KKK. He has been in the Catholic Diocese of Arlington for more than 24 years, the diocese tells the Post, and has spent the last four years as a parochial vicar at St. Leo the Great in Fairfax City. The diocese said it "learned of his past as well as his sincere conversion of heart," and has never heard any accusations of racism against Aitcheson from parishioners. Aitcheson wrote that he is stepping down temporarily from his position at St. Leo the Great, and said the "irony" that he "left an anti-Catholic hate group to rejoin the Catholic Church is not lost on me. It is a reminder of the radical transformation possible through Jesus Christ in his mercy." Catherine Garcia

1:04 a.m. ET

As President Trump was railing against the news media in Phoenix on Tuesday night, The Daily Show's Trevor Noah was looking back at a very different and much more consequential speech Trump had given the night before, laying out his plans for the Afghanistan War. "It was a good speech, and he successfully read it," Noah shrugged. But it had a pretty murky definition of "victory," and was very light on the details. "While we do know that Trump has decided to send more troops to Afghanistan, that's pretty much all we know," he said. "Trump's actual strategy is like his position on Nazis — it's unclear."

Most of Trump's speech featured Teleprompter-reading "book-report Trump," Noah said, but there were glimpses of "freestyle Trump," and he tried to imagine former President Barack Obama throwing in a catchphrase while escalating a war. And even the scripted parts had some surprising assertions, like that Trump is a "problem solver," for example. "Yeah, Trump is a problem solver the same way Godzilla is a city planner," Noah said. "The only way Donald Trump could consider himself a problem solver is if he stops creating problems."

But jokes aside (for a minute), Noah was impressed that the former generals around Trump had convinced him to go against his instincts (and campaign pledges) to pull out of Afghanistan, and also with the "genius" tactics they used, heavy on the visual aids. "I mean, Trump may not care about bringing democracy to Afghanistan, but bringing miniskirts, that's a different story," he joked. Still, now that Trump has decided to send in more troops, Noah wasn't sure what the end goal is, and to highlight how much Trump's new strategy is really just the old strategy, he juxtaposed key parts of Trump's speech with eerily similar Afghanistan War statements by Obama. Watch and wonder below. Peter Weber

12:09 a.m. ET

Contrary to President Trump's repeated assertions inside the Phoenix Convention Center on Tuesday night, CNN did broadcast his entire campaign-style rally. And as it was ending, to Trump's campaign closing song about not always getting what you want, CNN's Don Lemon shook his head and said he was "just going to speak from the heart here." His heart clearly wasn't impressed with Trump's speech. "What we have witnessed was a total eclipse of the facts, someone who came out on stage and lied directly to the American people and left things out that he said in an attempt to rewrite history, especially when it comes to Charlottesville," he said.

Lemon said Trump blamed his problems on perceived enemies as real as "the imaginary friend of a 6-year-old," and argued that the president of the United States acted "like a child blaming a sibling" for something he himself did. You can watch Lemon's initial reaction to Trump's speech below. Peter Weber

August 22, 2017
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

As thousands of protesters stood outside, President Trump spoke to supporters Tuesday night in the Phoenix Convention Center about his response to the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia; complained about the media; hinted that he'll soon pardon Joe Arpaio, the former Maricopa County sheriff convicted of criminal contempt of court; and said the wall would be built along the U.S.-Mexico border "even if we have to close down our government" to get the funds.

Trump spent the first 30 minutes of his speech defending his Charlottesville remarks and decrying the criticism he received from "dishonest" people who thought he took too long to comment. He re-read his Charlottesville comments, omitting the part where he equated white supremacists to protesters, and accused the media of "trying to take away our history and our heritage" and giving hate groups "a platform."

When Trump mentioned Arpaio, the crowd cheered, and he said: "I'll make a prediction: I think he's going to be just fine. I won't do it tonight because I don't want to cause any controversy. But Sheriff Joe can feel good." He briefly mentioned tax reform, immigration, and getting rid of ObamaCare, and said he wouldn't talk about Arizona's Republican U.S. senators who are "weak on borders and weak on crime." Trump also falsely claimed multiple times there weren't very many protesters outside, and kept saying he could see CNN turning off their cameras, even though the network aired the rally in its entirety. Catherine Garcia

August 22, 2017
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The U.S. Navy is planning on relieving Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin of duty as commander of the Seventh Fleet, following four crashes, two of them deadly, in Asia since January, U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

Aucoin is a three-star commander, and he will be removed on Wednesday, the officials said; the Navy declined to comment to the Journal. The Seventh Fleet is based in Yokosuka, Japan, and the most recent collision took place early Monday, when the USS John S. McCain and a tanker crashed in the waters east of Singapore and the Straits of Malacca; 10 sailors were reported missing, and the bodies of some of the sailors were recovered on Tuesday. Catherine Garcia

August 22, 2017
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Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, will travel to Israel on Wednesday, his third trip to the country since being tasked by the president with bringing peace to the Middle East.

Kushner is scheduled to meet on Thursday separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. A person close to the White House told the Los Angeles Times that Kushner is considering this a "temperature taking" trip, and not expecting anything major to come out of it. The White House said the discussions will focus on combating extremism, humanitarian issues in the Gaza Strip, and "the path to substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks."

Kushner is already in the region, and along with special envoy Jason Greenblatt and Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell, he has been holding meetings with leaders from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Qatar. Catherine Garcia

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