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July 12, 2018

President Trump's most recent less-than-truth may just be willful ignorance at this point.

Trump keeps noting that he carried Wisconsin in the 2016 election, claiming he achieved a feat not even former President Ronald Reagan could. He made the false claim for a third time as he left the NATO summit Thursday, per The Washington Post: "One of the states we won — Wisconsin — I didn't realize this until fairly recently, that was the one state that Ronald Reagan didn't win when he ran the board his second time," Trump boasted. "He didn't win Wisconsin, and we won Wisconsin."

The president is trying say he won the single state Reagan lost in the 1984 election, but a simple Google search would help Trump get his facts straight. Reagan dominated Wisconsin in both 1980 and 1984, only losing one state the second time around: Wisconsin's next-door neighbor, Minnesota. (Trump lost Minnesota too in 2016.)

Trump's falsity was a bit bigger during its second appearance at a Montana rally last week, the Post points out. "I won Wisconsin, first time since Dwight Eisenhower in 1952," Trump said at the rally, even though Republicans have won Wisconsin six times since. Eisenhower did it himself in 1956. Kathryn Krawczyk

8:44 a.m.

One might expect some of the recent revelations from former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe's new tell-all book to send the White House into turmoil. Not so.

Axios reports White House officials see McCabe's new book — The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump — as an "opportunity." McCabe has in recent television interviews made a number of jaw-dropping statements, including confirming that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein discussed whether Cabinet officials might come together to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. McCabe also said he opened an investigation into Trump and that he thought it was possible the president was working for Russia.

That's all pretty damaging, but according to Axios, White House officials and those close to Trump "plan to keep promoting" stories like these because "Trump and his allies view this as vindicating his narrative that there's a Deep State 'coup' afoot." This explains, Axios writes, why Trump allies and even the president himself have been putting some of McCabe's anecdotes out there rather than trying to suppress them or claim fake news.

Trump, after all, has been tweeting up a storm about McCabe in recent days, on Monday tweeting a quote from Sean Hannity claiming that McCabe "admitted to plotting a coup (government overthrow) when he was serving in the FBI." Trump added, "Treason!"

According to Axios, the White House's plan is to argue that stories like these from McCabe are true while at the same time everything else he says is "a pack of lies." Brendan Morrow

8:19 a.m.

President Trump is looking to take back more than $3 billion in federal money from California, and the state's governor is calling the move "political retribution."

The Trump administration on Tuesday said it will cancel a $929 million federal grant for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, saying the state's Los Angeles-to-San Francisco bullet train project has "failed to make reasonable progress," per The New York Times. The administration also wants California to pay back $2.5 billion in federal money it's already spent.

This comes after California said it would be scaling back the $77 billion rail project, saying the version it had planned would "cost too much" and "take too long" but that construction on the 119-mile Central Valley rail link will still be completed, per Reuters. Upon making that announcement, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said he was "not interested in sending $3.5 billion in federal funding that was allocated to this project back to Donald Trump."

Now, that's exactly what he's fighting against, and Newsom claims this is a direct response to his state's lawsuit against the administration for its declaration of a national emergency to secure border wall funding. "This is clear political retribution by President Trump, and we won't sit idly by," Newsom said. "This is California’s money, and we are going to fight for it."

Trump on Twitter previously compared the high-speed rail project to the border wall, saying it is "hundreds of times more expensive than the desperately needed wall!"

Brendan Morrow

7:48 a.m.

A small cluster of Twitter and other social media accounts have already launched "a wide-ranging disinformation campaign aimed at Democratic 2020 candidates," Politico reports, and there are "signs that foreign state actors are driving at least some of the activity." The main targets of the coordinated social media attacks appear to be Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas), and according to some analyses, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

The goal, Politico reports, citing data from social media platforms and interviews with data scientists and digital campaign strategists, appears to be undermining the Democratic frontrunners "through the dissemination of memes, hashtags, misinformation, and distortions of their positions," plus a more general effort to sow discord in the 2020 Democratic field. "It looks like the 2020 presidential primary is going to be the next battleground to divide and confuse Americans," Brett Horvath, a founders of information warfare disruption firm Guardians.ai, tells Politico. "As it relates to information warfare in the 2020 cycle, we're not on the verge of it — we're already in the third inning."

Guardians.ai said it traced the campaign against 2020 Democrats to the same group of about 200 Twitter accounts that waged a wide-scale influence campaign during the 2018 elections, and Horvath says the 2020 assaults are more sophisticated than the 2018 ones and much more evolved than the initial phase in 2016. The core group of accounts, some of them highly sophisticated bots and others unwitting participants who tweet simpatico messages, are then amplified by tens of thousands or other accounts, mimicking organic vitality. In 2018, the accounts focused on conspiracy theories about things like voter fraud and the migrant caravan, and now they are spreading racist memes and misinformation about top Democrats.

Researchers "cannot conclusively point to the actors behind the coordinated activity," Politico notes. "It's unclear if they are rogue hackers, political activists or, as some contend, foreign state actors such as Russia," again. You can read more at Politico. Peter Weber

6:00 a.m.

Stephen Colbert began his interview with former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe on Tuesday's Late Show with a little lighthearted banter. "Legally, do you have to look and dress like an extra from Dragnet to be in the FBI?" Colbert said. "Yes, of course," McCabe replied drily. Then they jumped into his book, The Threat, and why McCabe launched a dual criminal-counterintelligence investigation into President Trump after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey during the FBI's investigation of Russian election meddling.

The investigation grew out of the question, "Why would the president of the United States be trying to obstruct an investigation into Russia's activity?" McCabe explained. "And what makes you think that the president fired Comey because of the Russia investigation, other than the fact that he said that out loud?" Colbert asked, half-seriously. "There were a number of things that concerned us as we investigated the possibility of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign through the fall," McCabe said, adding, "We don't open investigations because we like someone or don't like them, or because they're a Republican or a Democrat."

McCabe explained that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's "brief" mention of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump came "in the middle of a chaotic and long conversation" and "was not very coup-y," and said his former boss Robert Mueller loves managing investigations, "so I am sure he is just as happy as he can possibly be" as special counsel. "He looks happy," Colbert deadpanned. "Is there anything in the last two years that makes you less suspicious of the president, or is less indicative that he had improper relationship with the Russians, possible collusion or conspiracy?" "No," McCabe answered quickly. "It all seems to get more suspicious every day."

McCabe also said the media's reporting on Trump's Russia ties and possible obstruction of justice has been remarkably accurate, but he still knows mildly shocking things he can't discuss. Peter Weber

4:30 a.m.

On Tuesday, lawyers representing Kentucky high school student Nicholas Sandmann and his parents filed a federal defamation lawsuit against The Washington Post, seeking $250 million in damages. Why $250 million? That's what Amazon founder Jeff Bezos paid for the Post in 2013. The lawsuit accuses the Post of publishing "no less than six false and defamatory articles" on a standoff in Washington, D.C., last month between Sandmann and his Covington Catholic High classmates, a group called the Black Israelites, and Native American advocate Nathan Phillips.

Among the Post's allegedly defamatory actions was quoting a statement from the Covington Catholic dioceses criticizing the students, reporting that Phillips said he felt threatened and heard the students chant "build the wall," describing Sandmann's facial expression as "a relentless smirk," and printing the "gist" that Sandmann "assaulted and/or physically intimidated Phillips" and "instigated a confrontation with Phillips and subsequently engaged in racist conduct."

Over three days in January, "the Post engaged in a modern-day form of McCarthyism by competing with CNN and NBC, among others, to claim leadership of a mainstream and social media mob of bullies which attacked, vilified, and threatened Nicholas Sandmann, an innocent secondary school child," the complaint alleges. "The Post ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the president." The lawsuit was not filed to "further a political agenda," Sandmann's lawyers added.

One of the questions the court will decide is whether Sandmann was a private figure or a limited-purpose public figure who participated in a public march and sought publicity on his own, Jon Fleischaker, general counsel for the Kentucky Press Association, told The Cincinnati Enquirer. And Sandmann's lawyers will have to cite verifiable facts, not opinions. "We are reviewing a copy of the lawsuit, and we plan to mount a vigorous defense," said Post spokeswoman Kristine Coratti Kelly. Peter Weber

3:15 a.m.

Last month, Empire actor Jussie Smollett "said he was attacked by racist Trump supporters who beat him up, tied a rope around his neck, and poured bleach on him," Trevor Noah recapped on Tuesday's Daily Show. "But now police have found two Nigerian brothers who claim Jussie paid them to stage the attack. Now, the police searched their house and they found bleach, they found masks, and they found rope, so this is like the shortest CSI episode ever. ... I'm surprised they didn't also find a book called Faking Hate Crimes for Dummies."

Noah ran through more details with correspondent Jaboukie Young-White, who as a gay black actor like Smollett was both "disappointed" and also eager to try out for the Lifetime movie, or maybe Smollett's spot on Empire. "We're still piecing together leaks from the Chicago Police Department and more reliable sources like TMZ, but you couldn't have written a crazier plot," Young-White said. "I mean, Trump supporters who watch Empire?" He got serious about "gay panic" laws in 47 states that allow men lighter sentences for beating or killing LGBTQ men by claiming they were hitting on them. "Imagine if women could use that defense?" he said. "There would be no men left." (There's NSFW language.)

Whether Smollett is lying or telling the truth, "right now the story just doesn't make sense," Noah told the audience between scenes. "Like, why are two Nigerian guys walking around in Chicago's freezing weather and then shouting 'This is MAGA country'? That's a weird thing to shout as a Nigerian person." Either way, "this is a home run" for President Trump, "because so many people jumped on board before they even waited to see what it was about," he said. "We live in a world where people are too enthusiastic at jumping at stories that confirm their biases, instead of just pausing and going: What do I make of the story?" Peter Weber

2:00 a.m.

"Hello, I'm Bernie Sanders and I'm yelling for president of the United States," Jimmy Fallon said on Tuesday's Tonight Show, recreating Tuesday morning's presidential campaign announcement by the Vermont senator. "Dozens of my fellow Democrats have already announced that they are running, but ... I have the most experience — literally. I am older than all 20 of them combined." Fallon's Sanders explained he was "speaking in all-caps" because "we need change, and that's why I'm asking you to elect me, the guy who did this three years ago and lost."

"Bernie made his campaign announcement this morning in the most Bernie way possible, on Vermont Public Radio," Stephen Colbert said at The Late Show. "After that he made it official by posting a flier on his local co-op bulletin board." Sanders finished second in 2016, but the 2020 field is much bigger, and much more diverse. "Here's the point: Bernie's not young," Colbert said. "But he's right: The political landscape has changed; the majority of Democratic candidates this time around have joined his revolution. He's not just Bernie Sanders — he's Grey Guevara!"

Sanders "would become the oldest American president ever — yes, and I mean that literally: He was born a few months before George Washington," Trevor Noah joked at The Daily Show. "But don't let Bernie's age fool you; this guy is as feisty as ever." He cheered Sanders' verbal middle finger to Howard Schultz, laughing: "Yo, I've missed Bernie so much."

Noah quickly switched to a fond rundown of the "scandals" plaguing the rest of the Democratic field: Kirsten Gillibrand eating chicken "wrong," Kamala Harris listening to rap in the wrong decade, and most scandalous of all, Cory Booker being "a healthy eater." President Trump's "scandals are so massive and exhausting — it's like, sex with a porn star, conflicts of interest, corruption, his Cabinet — it's been refreshing to have old-school silly scandals again," he said. Still, he laughed "I feel so bad for people who take Fox News seriously — it's got to be so much work." Watch below. Peter Weber

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