House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) removed Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) from the House Ethics Committee on Saturday in response to a New York Times report that Meehan used tax dollars to settle a case with a former female aide who accused him of sexual misconduct. Ryan also directed Meehan to repay the unknown amount out of his own pocket, and to submit to an ethics investigation.
The Times reported that Meehan, who is married, expressed romantic interest in the aide with a handwritten letter and "grew hostile" when she rebuffed him. After she left her position because of the harassment, the report says, the aide "reached a confidential agreement" with Meehan, including a settlement paid out of his congressional account.
Meehan has denied any inappropriate behavior. His office said in a statement he "has always treated his colleagues, male and female, with the utmost respect and professionalism." Bonnie Kristian
Jeff Sessions is back in the doghouse. On Wednesday, President Trump took to publicly bashing his attorney general by slamming the Justice Department for its failure to investigate the Obama administration over Russian meddling:
Question: If all of the Russian meddling took place during the Obama Administration, right up to January 20th, why aren’t they the subject of the investigation? Why didn’t Obama do something about the meddling? Why aren’t Dem crimes under investigation? Ask Jeff Session!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2018
While the misspelled name is an especially brutal touch, it is not Trump's first time airing his grievances about Sessions. In November, Trump refused to answer whether or not he was considering firing Sessions, adding: "A lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me." At the time, Trump was primarily concerned with the fact that the department wasn't investigating Hillary Clinton's former campaign chairman John Podesta "and all of that dishonesty."
Trump has reportedly privately ripped Sessions too, expressing fury over the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Muller last May. "Mr. Trump told Mr. Sessions that choosing him to be attorney general was one of the worst decisions he had made, called him an 'idiot,' and said that he should resign," The New York Times reports. Jeva Lange
Rev. Billy Graham, a Christian evangelist known as "America's Pastor," has died at the age of 99, NBC News reports.
Over the course of his more than 70-year career, Graham preached to an estimated 200 million people across 185 countries, and was granted personal audiences with several U.S. presidents and world leaders. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. credited Graham's influence, saying: "Had it not been for the ministry of my good friend Dr. Billy Graham, my work in the Civil Rights Movement would not have been as successful as it has been."
Long a presence on television and radio, Graham retired in 2005, citing his health. Graham was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease 25 years ago. Jeva Lange
President Trump is quietly considering imposing federal age restrictions on the purchase of weapons like the AR-15, which was used in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting last week, Axios reports. "Nothing has been decided, or is close to decided, on the age question," Axios adds based on a conversation with a person close to the president, although Trump has reportedly told people in his orbit that he does not believe high schoolers should be able to buy guns.
As the laws stand now, federally licensed dealers cannot sell weapons like a rifle or shotgun to a person under 18, or a handgun to someone under 21. Florida shooter Nikolas Cruz, 19, bought two of at least 10 of his firearms following "normal protocol for Florida" at Gun World of South Florida in Deerfield Beach, CNN reports.
President Trump announced Tuesday that he is directing the Justice Department to propose a ban for bump stock firearm modifications. Separately, Florida lawmakers denied a motion to bring an assault weapons ban to a vote Tuesday night.
Trump meets Wednesday for a listening session with high school students and teachers at the White House. Teens have widely pushed for gun reform after the Parkland shooting, with 17-year-old survivor David Hogg insisting: "Without action, ideas stay ideas and children die." Jeva Lange
The normally staid New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman declared "code red" in a recent column, warning that when it comes to Russia, President "Trump's behavior amounts to a refusal to carry out his oath of office — to protect and defend the Constitution" and "must not be tolerated." The "biggest threat to the integrity of our democracy today is in the Oval Office," he said. The column went viral, and Chris Cuomo had Friedman on CNN's New Day on Wednesday to discuss his concerns.
"Our country is at stake," Friedman said. "Our president is a disturbed person. And he's behaving in ways that are simply inexplicable, that tell you that he is either compromised because the Russians have been funding his companies in ways that he would find embarrassing if publicly disclosed — that's why he hasn't shown us his tax returns — or he's compromised because of maybe behavior he engaged in while in Moscow, or he is simply a towering fool who is ignoring the advice of his intelligence chiefs being made in public."
Trump's dismissal of Russian interference in America's democracy is "deeply disturbing behavior," Friedman said. "If America doesn't lead, I promise you, your kids ... will grow up in a world where nobody will lead," he warned. "Our president is a disturbed person," and "what magnifies it is that his party is complicit. ... You know that if Hillary Clinton had done one of the things that Donald Trump has done, let alone the whole totality of them, we would be in impeachment hearings right now." "There is a toxic partisanship at play, there's no doubt about that," Cuomo agreed. Watch below. Peter Weber
NYT's Thomas Friedman says he thinks Trump's "deeply disturbing behavior" shows he's either "compromised" or a "fool," but either way, it hurts US. "If America doesn't lead ... (your kids) will grow up in a world where nobody will lead." pic.twitter.com/hOkiWShj1Q
— New Day (@NewDay) February 21, 2018
Fox News' Shep Smith loses his patience with the White House's claims that Russia had no impact on the election
The White House has repeatedly insisted that just because Special Counsel Robert Mueller reached the conclusion that Russian agents "conspired to obstruct the lawful functions of the United States government through fraud and deceit," it does not mean that foreign actors actually had a tangible impact on the 2016 election. "The results of the election were not impacted," President Trump insisted last week. "The Trump campaign did nothing wrong — no collusion!"
Fox News' Shep Smith thinks such claims are hogwash. Speaking Tuesday after Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said "we know from the Russia indictment that there was no collusion," Smith put the breaks on the administration's attempts to brush Mueller's report aside. "That is not true," Smith said, adding that Fox News reports the probe into possible collusion is "a separate investigation" altogether.
Smith additionally had no patience for the administration's spin on the integrity of the 2016 election. "The White House is trying to say it's incontrovertible the Russian meddling had no impact on the election," he said. "That is not true, it's an open matter." Watch Smith break it down below. Jeva Lange
Shep immediately after the press briefing: 'A couple of things ... Sanders said we know there is no collusion, that is not true ... The White House is trying to say it's incontrovertible the Russian meddling had no impact on the election, that is not true, it's an open matter.' pic.twitter.com/SN5URLxBB7
— Lis Power (@LisPower1) February 20, 2018
Boston Dynamics' extremely creepy robots just got even more terrifying. The "notoriously tight-lipped company" is apparently in the process of teaching its yellow "SpotMini" robo-dogs to fight off humans, Wired reports, which basically means giving them the "ability to deal with our crap." Here is what that nightmarish goal looks like in action:
Boston Dynamics explains that in the video above, man's mechanical best friend was instructed by one human to proceed through the door, while another human attempted — admittedly not with much passion — to ward off its attempts.
Not so reassuringly, a new study by 26 experts in the field claims that artificial intelligence is increasingly a threat to mankind, The Independent reports. "AI will alter the landscape of risk for citizens, organizations, and states — whether it's criminals training machines to hack or 'phish' at human levels of performance or privacy-eliminating surveillance, profiling, and repression — the full range of impacts on security is vast," Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute research fellow Miles Brundage said.
To anyone still concerned about Fido Prime, "this testing does not irritate or harm the robot," Boston Dynamics promises. People worried about, well, people might not be so reassured. The score is clear: Humankind 0, SpotMini 1. Jeva Lange
Stephen Coblert's guest on Tuesday's Late Show was Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and after discussing what they gave up for Lent, Colbert turned to last week's school shooting in Parkland, Florida. "You've been in D.C. since 2007, why can't there be any meaningful reform — or even meaningless reform?" he asked. "Congress has done nothing," Gillibrand agreed. "And they don't get anything done because the NRA has a chokehold on Congress. The NRA is concerned only with gun sales — it is literally all about money, it is all about greed, it has nothing to do with the Second Amendment — and we've seen death after death after death. And it has to stop."
Colbert prodded a bit, asking if lawmakers are beholden to the NRA's campaign cash, its firing-up of single-issue gun voters, or its threat to fund primary challengers. Gillibrand said all of the above: "It's the power of money, it's the power of communications, it's the fear they instill in members, and it's wrong." She ducked a question about the NRA and Democrats but offered her solution: "Listen to these kids" in Florida who are "speaking truth to power."
Listening to parents and children who lost loved ones to guns changed her mind, Gillibrand said, accounting for her drop from an NRA A rating to an F. "I think this whole conversation has a chance of changing because of these kids," she said. Colbert noted that it isn't just guns — large majorities of both parties also support protecting DREAMers, and Congress does nothing there, either. Gillibrand blamed "dark money" from corporations.
"You need to take away the voice and the outsized influence that corporations have over members of Congress, and the NRA is one of the worst offenders," she said. They ended by talking about ongoing Russian efforts to sway U.S. elections and what she said, as the "#MeToo senator," to her former colleague Al Franken. Watch below. Peter Weber