October 13, 2017
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The flag flies triumphantly above the building, gently fluttering in the wind, alerting people far and wide that a person of great honor and distinction is inside. No, it's not the Queen of England at Buckingham Palace — it's Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has a staffer climb up to the roof of his department's Washington headquarters and hoist up a special secretarial flag to signal that he's shown up to work for the day.

When Zinke leaves the office or travels, another employee makes the trek up to the roof to take down the flag, which features the agency's bison seal. If Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt is in while Zinke is gone, he has his own special banner that goes up. Asked by The Washington Post what the point was of all this exactly, spokeswoman Heather Swift said it was "a major sign of transparency," adding that Zinke is "restoring honor and tradition to the department, whether it's flying the flag when he is in garrison or restoring traditional access to public lands."

While Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has a personal flag flying next to the U.S. flag at State Department headquarters at all times, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Zinke is the first interior secretary to do it, the Post reports, and not even the White House flies the presidential flag when President Trump is inside. Zinke might be a trailblazer, and others in the administration could soon emulate him — be on the lookout for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's banner, emblazoned with smoke stacks and oil-covered birds. Catherine Garcia

11:59 a.m. ET
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Kim Jong Un is building an arsenal to rain missiles from the sky — and apparently those aren't his only celestial ambitions. USA Today reported Monday that North Korean state media claims Kim has the ability to manipulate the weather.

After the supreme leader made his way up to the peak of Paektu Mountain, an active volcano on the border of China and North Korea, a blizzard apparently stopped in its tracks. North Korea's state newspaper Rodung Simun said that the "fine weather" atop the volcano was so paradisal as to be "unprecedented" — proof that the "peerlessly illustrious commander" could bend the weather to his will. Perhaps even more impressive was that Kim's black leather shoes apparently remained unscuffed after his arduous climb.

The Kim family has a special connection with Paektu Mountain. It is said that when Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, was born, so too was a new star, while a double rainbow appeared in the sky over the volcano. In 2009, snow apparently melted on the mountain's peak during Kim Jong Il's birthday, prompting observers to claim "that even the nature and the sky unfolded such mysterious ecstasy in celebration of the birthday of leader Kim Jong Il."

The younger Kim, then, has apparently inherited some of the superhuman abilities of his father, who was supposedly the author of more than 1,500 books and six of the world's superior operas. Kelly O'Meara Morales

11:52 a.m. ET

Several of the 16 women who have accused President Trump of sexual misconduct spoke out again on Megyn Kelly Today and at a press conference on Monday, calling on Congress to investigate their allegations, The Washington Post reports. "Let's try round two," said Samantha Holvey, who claimed in October of last year that Trump inappropriately inspected women who participated in his beauty pageants.

Holvey called it "heartbreaking" to have gone public with her story "and nobody cared." Jessica Leeds, who says Trump groped her on an airplane, added that "none of us want this attention ... but this is important, so when asked, we speak out."

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told CBS on Sunday that Trump's accusers "should be heard." Trump has vehemently denied the allegations. In a statement Monday, the White House said: "These false claims, totally disputed in most cases by eyewitness accounts, were addressed at length during last year's campaign, and the American people voiced their judgment by delivering a decisive victory." Jeva Lange

11:07 a.m. ET
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Alabama Senate candidates Roy Moore and Doug Jones are locked in a dead heat ahead of Tuesday's "all but impossible" to predict election. Although a Fox News poll published Monday shows Jones, the Democratic candidate, up 10 points, a competing poll by Emerson shows Republican contender Moore up 9 points. RealClearPolitics' average between Nov. 27-Dec. 10 shows Moore up just 2.5 points.

"Turnout is always tough to predict in a special election, especially one two weeks before Christmas," NBC News writes. "Even establishing a baseline of expectations for the race is slippery, since few have bothered polling a state where elections are generally predetermined for candidates with an 'R' next to their name on the ballot."

Moore is accused of pursuing girls as young as 14 while he was in his 30s. Even Alabama's Sen. Richard Shelby (R) admitted, "I couldn't vote for Roy Moore."

The betting markets do have a favorite candidate, giving "Moore about an 80 percent chance of victory," FiveThirtyEight writes — or "roughly the same chance they gave Hillary Clinton just before the 2016 presidential election." Jeva Lange

11:05 a.m. ET
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President Trump has publicly toyed with idea of firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, though he has of late refrained from talking about it on Twitter, reportedly on the advice of his attorney. That silence has not reassured the president's critics that Mueller's investigation into alleged Trump campaign involvement in Russian election meddling efforts will proceed undisturbed, so congressional Democrats have called for additional protections of Mueller's job.

But a new FiveThirtyEight analysis published Monday argues "Mueller's investigation is more secure than it might seem — and that more protections don't necessarily produce more effective prosecutions." The case is based on a review of the history of special prosecutors since the first one was appointed in 1875. Presidents have typically refrained from interference with these probes, and on the rare occasions of White House intervention, public uproar has served to preserve the investigations over the presidents' objections.

This history suggests Trump firing Mueller would mainly be an act of self-sabotage. "As long as [Mueller] doesn't do something to jeopardize" his reputation for competence, "Trump would have no justification for dismissing him," John Q. Barrett, a law professor who investigated the Iran-Contra scandal, told FiveThirtyEight. "And if he did, he'd have to appoint an equally credible replacement, or there would be really catastrophic political consequences." Bonnie Kristian

10:52 a.m. ET
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CNN reported Monday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions did in fact receive guidance from the FBI instructing him not to disclose contacts with foreign officials if they occurred as part of his activities as a senator. A spokesperson for Sessions had made that claim in May after the attorney general faced fierce criticism for not listing conversations he had with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, but Monday's report is the first indication by the FBI that it gave such instruction.

The email, sent in March and obtained by CNN, shows an unnamed FBI agent telling an aide to Sessions that he could leave foreign contacts made as a senator off of his security clearance application. Sessions' spokesperson said earlier this year that he had been "instructed not to list meetings with foreign dignitaries and their staff connected with his Senate activities."

During his confirmation hearings in January, Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he was not aware of any contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, stating unambiguously, "I did not have communications with the Russians." That claim was called into dispute in March when The Washington Post reported that Sessions had met with Kislyak in September 2016. A spokesperson for Sessions said that "there was absolutely nothing misleading about [Sessions'] answer" because he had met with Kislyak as part of his duties as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the hearing question had specifically concerned acts undertaken as a surrogate for the Trump campaign.

While the newly released email does give Sessions cover regarding his foreign contacts disclosures, it does not clarify why Sessions does not remember talking to Kislyak at all, nor his presence at a meeting where a Trump campaign aide suggested setting up a meeting with Russian government officials, as he has claimed. Kelly O'Meara Morales

10:38 a.m. ET
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In public, President Trump has offered praise for women who speak up to expose sexual misconduct by powerful men. "I think it's very, very good for women," he said late last month, "and I'm very happy a lot of these things are coming out."

In private, however, he is reportedly singing a different tune. Trump has complained "that the avalanche of charges taking down prominent men is spinning out of control," Politico reported Monday, citing multiple unnamed sources with knowledge of the president's conversations on the subject.

Particularly in the case of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct toward girls as young as 14, Trump reportedly believes the allegations are a ploy to undermine their target's success. When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called Trump to ask for his help in pushing Moore out of the race, the Politico story says, Trump's response shocked him. "Who were these women," Trump reportedly asked, "and why had they kept quiet for 40 years only to level charges weeks before an election?"

This perspective, paired with a combative instinct to react against the desires of establishment figures like McConnell, is how Trump "came around to an accused child molester," the Politico piece argues. Read the rest here. Bonnie Kristian

10:31 a.m. ET

Former President Barack Obama is making an eleventh-hour bid for Democrat Doug Jones in the Alabama Senate race against Republican Roy Moore, CNN reports. "This one's serious," the former president says in a robocall to voters ahead of Tuesday's election. "You can't sit it out."

Obama's decision to get involved pits him directly against President Trump, who has also added his voice to the high-profile race in recent weeks. The Alabama election has divided the country as even many Republicans have rejected Moore as a candidate, due to a number of women who accused him of pursuing them while they were teenagers.

"Doug Jones is a fighter for equality, for progress," Obama adds in the call. "Doug will be our champion for justice. So get out and vote, Alabama." Obama has also campaigned in recent elections in Virginia and New Jersey, with both his candidates winning their respective gubernatorial races last month, CNN adds.

Polls show the Alabama race as a dead heat — in RealClearPolitics' average of the polls, Moore is up just 2.5 points between Nov. 27 and Dec. 10. Jeva Lange

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