March 13, 2018

On Monday, British Prime Minister Theresa May said it's "highly likely that Russia was responsible" for a March 4 nerve gas attack on a 66-year-old former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, outside a shopping center in Salisbury. Skripal and his daughter, 33, are hospitalized in critical condition, and a British police officer who found them unconscious on a bench is in serious condition.

The pair "were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia," May said. "Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others." U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the nerve agent, Novichok, "came from Russia" and will "certainly trigger a response." He did not speculate if the Russian government ordered the attack, but said the Kremlin is increasingly "aggressive" and seems to be behind a "certain unleashing of activity that we don't fully understand."

Earlier Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had repeatedly declined to blame Russia for the nerve gas attack.

May gave Russian President Vladimir Putin until midnight Tuesday to explain how a nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union ended up poisoning British citizens in broad daylight. The Russian Foreign Ministry said May is putting on "a circus show in the British Parliament" and posted a mocking tweet.

Novichok agents, which asphyxiate people by constricting airways and slowing the heart, are believed to be up to 10 times deadlier than better known nerve agents like Sarin and VX. Peter Weber

8:44 a.m.

Nathan Phillips, the Native American man in a viral video who is stared down by a Catholic high school student, says he forgives all of those involved in the controversy.

Phillips spoke with Today Thursday and said he was "upset" by the interview with Nick Sandmann that aired on the network the day before. Sandmann did not offer an apology to Phillips, saying he didn't behave disrespectfully and had "every right" to stand in front of him. Phillips said he turned the interview off after 30 or 40 seconds, saying to himself, "That's all I needed to hear."

Sandmann's response to the controversy, Phillips said, was "coached," and has been characterized by "insincerity" and a "lack of responsibility." Phillips also said that because Sandmann has hired a public relations firm, "those aren't even his words."

At the same time, Phillips said he "went to go pray about it." "Even though I'm angry, I still have that forgiveness in my heart for those students," he said.

Phillips has said he was trying to defuse a tense situation between the students and another group of protesters, and he began to play his drum. In the video, Sandmann was seen wearing a Make America Great Again hat and smirking while staring at Phillips. Phillips again told Today Thursday he heard the students chanting "build the wall," which Sandmann has denied.

Watch the full Today interview with Phillips below. Brendan Morrow

8:25 a.m.

Jayme Closs, the Wisconsin teenager who escaped after being held captive for nearly three months, will receive $25,000 in reward money.

Hormel Foods said this week that the money it had offered as a reward for any information about Closs' whereabouts will be donated to her, The Washington Post reports. Closs' parents, who were fatally shot in October prior to her abduction, had worked at a plant owned by one of the company's subsidiaries, and Hormel Foods had offered the reward in addition to the $25,000 offered by the FBI.

"Her bravery and strength have truly inspired our team members around the world," the company's president said Wednesday, CBS News reports.

After 88 days, Closs earlier this month turned up about 70 miles from where she was last seen, running into a woman who helped her to a neighbor's house and called the police. Authorities say Jake Thomas Patterson, who has been charged with homicide and kidnapping, held Closs in his Wisconsin home for nearly three months, but she was able to escape while he was out, CNN reports.

Hormel Foods says it hopes to set up a trust fund for Closs, which "can be used for Jayme's needs today and in the future." Brendan Morrow

7:06 a.m.

A new excerpt from former White House communications staffer Cliff Sims' new memoir emerged in Vanity Fair, and this one focused on a very special member of President Trump's Team of Vipers: Kellyanne Conway. Sims doesn't appear to be a fan:

As I watched Kellyanne in operation over our time in the White House, my view of her sharpened. It became hard to look long at her without getting the sense that she was a cartoon villain brought to life. Her agenda — which was her survival over all others, including the president — became more and more transparent. [Cliff Sims, via Vanity Fair]

In the White House, "Kellyanne managed to land a job with no fixed responsibilities" and a huge office, where she could "just dabble in areas that piqued her interest," Sims writes. And one of those interests was leaking, a fact he learned firsthand while drafting a response on her MacBook to Morning Joe calling her out for being two-faced about Trump:

Kellyanne was sitting at her desk texting away. And since her iMes­sage account was tied to both her phone and her laptop, which she must not have even considered, I could inadvertently see every conversation she was having. Over the course of 20 minutes or so, she was having simultaneous conversations with no fewer than a half­-dozen reporters, most of them from outlets the White House frequently trashed for publishing "fake news." [Sims, Vanity Fair]

Conway "bashed" Kushner, Steve Bannon, and Reince Priebus by name and also recounted private conversations with Trump, "talking about him like a child she had to set straight," Sims said. "I was sitting there, watching this, totally bewildered. I was supposed to be writing a statement, defending her against accusations that she had done almost exactly what I was watch­ing her do that very moment." Read more about his impressions of Conway and Trump at Vanity Fair. Peter Weber

5:51 a.m.

On Wednesday's Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon poked fun at Trump's manipulated social media photos and State of the Union flop, and he came up with some follow-up tweets to Trump's "Build a Wall & Crime Will Fall" tweet, including "Not paying TSA agents may be controversial / But what do I care? I don't fly commercial." And "get this, Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen is delaying his testimony in Congress because he says he's been threatened by Trump, which could actually be witness tampering," Fallon said. "So now Trump's being investigated for collusion, obstruction, and witness tampering — or as Robert Mueller put it, 'I got Bingo.'"

Right, "just in case things aren't thuggish enough" with the shutdown, Jimmy Kimmel said on Kimmel Live, "the president made a rambling phone call to Fox News during which he somewhat ominously suggested that someone should investigate Michael Cohen's father-in-law, and then he did another interview with Fox News and made insinuations about Michael Cohen's wife. ... Remind me, which Godfather are we on now?"

"While Donald Corleone is settling scores, you have the vice president of the United States staying on top of international affairs," with bad Spanish aimed at Venezuelans, and yet another White House tell-all by a disaffected former Trump aide, Kimmel said, annoyed. "He's always been bad at everything," he vented. "The world's lamest Pizza Hut spokesman is running the United States, of course things are bad."

"Trump has been claiming in interviews that Cohen's father-in-law did something illegal, although he doesn't seem to know many details," Seth Meyers noted at Late Night. "You just said he committed a crime but you don't know his name? Is he Zorro?" Cohen is at the center of a contested BuzzFeed story reporting that Trump ordered Cohen to lie to Congress. "Here's the thing about the BuzzFeed story," Meyers said. "We're in this weird place right now where we keep waiting for another smoking gun when what we already know is incredibly damning." Watch him explain below. Peter Weber

3:46 a.m.

Samantha Bee kicked off Wednesday's Full Frontal with a nod to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shutting down President Trump's State of the Union speech until the government is re-opened. "Dude, I know it's driving you crazy that a woman turned you down, but this is the point in your life where you're actually going to have to learn that no means no," she said.

Bee spent most of her opening act on the government shutdown, its dire consequences, and the leading role of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "Senate Republicans don't give a s--t about the wall, they're only keeping the government shut because that's what the president wants — it's the same reason they changed our national bird to the chicken nugget," she joked. "Look, we know that governing involves compromise, but how can Democrats possibly compromise with the least-trustworthy man in history?" She elaborately compared giving Trump wall money to investing in the Fyre Festival.

"The 2020 election is already in full swing, and the future is looking female," Bee said in her second act. "There are several exciting women running for president, and also Tulsi Gabbard," and "now that there are so many ladies running, maybe we can stop talking about the tone or volume of their voice, their outfits, or their marriages, and instead judge them based on their ideas and experience — I'm just joking," she said, laughing darkly. "No, it's going to be a total nightmare."

Bee gave some examples of how the media is already focusing on the wrong things with women candidates. Meanwhile, the Democratic "men don't have to worry about this crap — I mean, Jesus, they barely need to worry about being Democrats," she said. "We are not off to a good start. When we frame women candidates like this right off the bat, it becomes impossible to actually discuss them with nuance down the line." There's NSFW language throughout. Peter Weber

2:27 a.m.

In August, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and husband Gail Ernst filed for divorce, and on Monday, the Des Moines alternative newspaper Cityview published details from an affidavit Joni Ernst filed in October. A judge sealed most of the divorce documents Tuesday, at Ernst's request. In the affidavit, Ernst said her ex-husband had been physically abusive, and she elaborated in an interview with Bloomberg News published Wednesday night. Ernst also disclosed that she was raped in college by a "physically and sexually abusive" man she was in a relationship with. "At times as she described her past, Ernst cried so hard that she was barely intelligible," Bloomberg reports.

"I didn't want to share it with anybody, and in the era of hashtag-MeToo survivors, I always believed that every person is different and they will confront their demons when they're ready," Ernst told Bloomberg's Jennifer Jacobs on Tuesday night. "And I was not ready." Ernst, the No. 4 Senate Republican, dismissed the idea that her support for President Trump should be tied to her personal experiences. "It's outrageous to suggest that anyone who has been the victim of sexual assault should therefore be a Hillary Clinton supporter," she said.

Ernst, 48, also told Bloomberg she didn't technically turn down Trump's invitation to be his running mate, as her affidavit attests. After meeting with Trump about joining the ticket, "I told him I needed to think about it," she said, and later withdrew from consideration. She also said Gail, 65, only physically abused her that one time, in 2007 or 2008, but it was "very sudden and very violent." He "grabbed me by the throat with his hands and threw me on the landing floor," Ernst said. "And then he pounded my head ... on the landing." After counseling, "he said that it would never happen again and blah-blah-blah. And it didn't," she said. "But there was always that underlying threat." Read more at Bloomberg News. Peter Weber

1:39 a.m.

Looking for a quick way to lower your blood pressure? Researchers suggest you close your eyes, and think of someone you love.

A new study in the journal Psychophysiology found that when people in committed relationships were put in a potentially uncomfortable situation, when they thought about their partner, their blood pressure didn't spike the way it did with people who were told to think about how they spent their day.

Researchers studied 120 undergraduate students, showing them videos of adorable animals for one minute in order to drop their blood pressure and heart rate. They were then split into three groups: All of them had to put their feet in ice water for four minutes, but in group one, their partners were present; in group two, they were told to think about their partner; and in group three, they were told to reflect on their day. Researchers found that the blood pressure of participants in the first two groups didn't spike as high as the people who were told to think about their day, Psychology Today reports. The participants whose partners were in the room also said they were in less physical pain from the cold water. Catherine Garcia

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