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July 13, 2018

Thursday's "parliamentary smackdown" in the House Judiciary and Oversight committees pitted Republicans against FBI agent Peter Strzok, whose text messages with lover Lisa Page criticizing President Trump have put him in the crosshairs of Trump and his allies, Stephen Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show. He read a few of those critical texts. His audience cheered. But "Republicans see these texts as proof of a vast conspiracy within the FBI to stop Donald Trump from being elected president, and here's how devious and how deep they went," Colbert said: "In order to keep it a secret, they let him get elected president."

In Thursday's circus-like hearing, "Strzok came out swinging," Colbert said, "but then the grilling began." And when Strzok, heeding instructions from FBI lawyers, declined to answer some GOP questions about the Trump-Russia investigation, "all rhetorical hell broke loose." He played a clip then enthusiastically re-enacted it, taking some colorful liberties. "This is the first time I've seen Congress as frustrated with Congress as we are," he said, playing another showdown. But things really went off the rails when Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) snidely brought up Strzok's wife.

Colbert wrapped things up: "So it looks like what happened here is that Congress hauled in an FBI agent in an effort to undermine the integrity of law enforcement and protect the president from being investigated for potentially criminal acts." He underscored that point by playing Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) reading one of Strzok's texts. Watch below. Peter Weber

5:44a.m.

In an interview with The Daily Caller on Wednesday, President Trump bizarrely claimed that you have to show some sort of voter ID to buy a box of cereal and laid out a novel conspiracy theory to explain Republican losses via voter fraud: "When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in, and vote again. Nobody takes anything. It's really a disgrace what's going on." There's not a lot comedians can add to that, but they gave it a try on Wednesday's late-night shows.

That's "a for-real quote from the president of the United States," Jimmy Kimmel reminded viewers on Kimmel Live. "People go to their cars to put on different hats? Our polls are being infested with a team of masters of disguise!" He went on to mock Florida and also its junior senator, Marco Rubio, whose own theory of voter fraud invented some new football terminology.

"That's right, President Trump accused people of voting illegally by changing clothes in the cars and getting back in line — or in Florida's case, putting on a shirt and getting back in line," Seth Meyers joked on Late Night. "I swear our president thinks in cartoons. He probably thinks the Village People is one guy." He suggested that Trump might actually be the person in disguise in the news, and you can watch that below. Peter Weber

4:55a.m.

President Trump is reportedly angry that his aides didn't warn him skipping a Veterans Day memorial at an American military cemetery in France would make him look bad, and he's under fire for his promotion of Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday's Late Show. "We're learning some interesting stuff about Whitaker's past," including his judicial nomination criteria, as outlined during his 2014 unsuccessful run for a Senate seat in Iowa.

"In the opinion of the current attorney general of the United States, if you're not a Christian, you won't be a good judge," Colbert summarized. "But it's right there in the Constitution: Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, yada, yada, yada, what would Jesus do?" Whitaker is also apparently "steeped" in time travel and Bigfoot. "Before we go any further, I just want to say that there's serious debate over whether Whitaker's appointment is unconstitutional and might obstruct justice," Colbert said, "but tonight, daddy don't give a damn — I want to talk about time travel and Bigfoot man."

This all had to do with the patent marketing company Whitaker worked for (before the FTC shut it down for scamming investors out of $26 million), and Colbert appeared more than happy to run through the details — which, to be fair, are pretty incredible — and tie it all together.

Seth Meyer had some fake facts about Whitaker at Late Night — and they still somehow look tame compared to reality.

Colbert briefly reprised his "Squatch'd" gag during his rundown of Trump's bizarre list of Medal of Freedom recipients, and you can watch that below. Peter Weber

3:29a.m.

On the morning after the 2018 midterms, President Trump took a few minutes to dance on the political graves of several Republicans who declined to embrace him during the campaign. Among them was Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah). "Mia Love gave me no love, and she lost," Trump said. A week later, it looks like Love has a good shot at winning. On Wednesday evening, Salt Lake and Juab counties released a new dump of 12,000 ballots in Utah's 4th Congressional District race, and Love's deficit to Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams (D) shrank to 873 votes.

"With the heavily Republican Utah County expected to update its count on Friday, McAdams precarious lead of 0.36 percentage points is likely to change, and could potentially erode away entirely," The Salt Lake Tribune reports. Dave Wasserman at the Cook Political Report agrees:

Both campaigns expressed cautious optimism. "Since Election Day, Mia has consistently improved her margin and is on a steady path to victory," Love campaign manager Dave Hansen said. McAdams' campaign manager, Andrew Roberts, said the vote count has had "ups and downs," but "we feel good about the mayor’s lead and remain optimistic about the remaining votes." Love has filed a lawsuit to halt the counting of ballots in Salt Lake County until her campaign can challenge signatures on provision and mail-in ballots. Peter Weber

2:59a.m.

President Trump has been in a sour mood for days, CNN reported Wednesday evening, confirming a slate of reports about Trump brooding and lashing out at staffers following mounting Democratic gains in last week's midterms, bad press from his trip to France over the weekend, and expected bad news from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Adding to Trump's pique, CNN says, was his feeling that first lady Melania Trump publicly exposing a staffing dispute with a senior national security official made him look like "a bossed-around husband."

"Yes, he's pissed — at damn near everyone," a White House official told CNN. You can hear Jake Tapper read that quote in CNN's report:

But CNN also sheds some light on why Trump's weekend in Paris worsened his already dark mood, including his feeling that his widely panned "decision to scrap a planned visit to an American cemetery in France because of rain" showed "he's being misserved by some of his staffers," notably Deputy Chief of Staff Zach Fuentes, who informed him of the logistical problems with traveling to the cemetery. CNN adds:

As he watched the onslaught of headlines criticizing him for skipping the trip with no backup plan, the president took his anger out on Fuentes personally. Whiling away the empty hours at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Paris, Trump complained the entire trip to France was poorly conceived and executed, according to people familiar with the matter. He'd long discovered the events on Sunday would not include a grand military parade like the one he witnessed a year ago on Bastille Day, leading him to wonder what the point of the trip was. [CNN]

Trump reportedly spent that afternoon demanding updates on the election results and watching Fox News. You can read more about Trump's itch to fire people, his Election Night party with billionaire friends, and his Paris blues at CNN. Peter Weber

2:08a.m.

This was not your average field trip.

Instead of visiting a museum or watching a performance, about 100 students from Seattle's Garfield High School on Tuesday traveled to the Elliott Bay Book Co. Each teenager had a $50 gift card, their money maximized thanks to a 20 percent store discount. They had to follow just one instruction: buy whatever books they wanted.

English teacher Adam Gish believes in the power of reading, telling The Seattle Times it "can humanize us and help us, especially at this age, discover our identities because we discover that other people go through the same thing." While in the classroom several years ago, Gish discovered that many of his students had never been inside a bookstore before. As a special reward, he would take a few every year to Elliot Bay Book Co. and let them choose a book, but it was too expensive for him to take all of his students.

Now, thanks to a private donor, Gish can bring dozens of ninth, tenth, and eleventh graders to the bookstore. Students have to apply by writing a letter, and some shared that their families can't afford books, while others said reading has helped them expand their minds. "A new book is a novelty, a hardcover novel almost unheard of ... it seems surreal and I would be honored to participate in this," one student wrote. This year, Gish let all of the students who wrote letters go on the field trip, where they picked up books like Becoming by Michelle Obama and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. After everyone checked out at the register, about 450 books were bought. Catherine Garcia

1:47a.m.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) finally put his foot down. On Wednesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked a motion by Flake and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) to force a full Senate vote on a bill protecting Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, newly endangered by President Trump's appointment of Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. Flake then announced that until the bill gets a floor vote, he will not vote for any of the 32 judicial nominations McConnell hopes to confirm before year's end or vote to advance any of the 21 judicial nominees awaiting a vote in the Judiciary Committee.

If Flake and the entire Democratic caucus vote no on the judicial nominations — probably McConnell's top priority — Vice President Mike Pence would have to step in to break the 50-50 tie. Flake can single-handedly block all nominees from being voted out of committee, assuming all Democrats vote with him. If Flake is joined by another Republican who supports his bipartisan bill — passed out of committee months ago — to give special counsels an avenue to contest their firing, no judges would be confirmed for the remainder of this Congress. Coons said he and Flake are confident the bill "would get 60 votes if given a vote."

McConnell and other Republicans, including some who helped write the bill, have argued the legislation is unnecessary because Trump won't fire Mueller. Flake wasn't buying that argument. “The president now has this investigation in his sights and we all know it,” he said on the Senate floor. "Why? Why do we do this? To protect a man seemingly who is so incurious about what Russia did during the 2016 elections? ... Why do we do that? Do we have no more institutional pride here?”

The legislation, even if passed in the Senate, faces an uncertain future in the House, though senators could insist on including it in must-pass legislation before the end of the year. Peter Weber

1:11a.m.

He may be a professional rapper, but that doesn't make Kanye West a good communicator, his wife, Kim Kardashian, said Wednesday.

It seems like many millennia have passed since that fateful day when West, donning a red Make America Great Again hat, visited the Oval Office and briefly rendered President Trump speechless. It was only a month ago, though, and at Wednesday's Criminal Justice Reform Summit, Kardashian revealed that in the time since, she's "educated" her husband on Trump's policies. "I know it's very confusing because, when you see someone wearing a red hat, you think they support that," she added. "But he's just fighting for free thought. And for the freedom to like a person, even if it's not the popular decision."

West is "not very political, actually," she said. He "just happens to like Donald Trump's personality, but doesn't know about the politics." When they're at home, he'll say things that are "basically the opposite" of public statements he's made, which is why Kardashian thinks he's "very misunderstood and the worst communicator." Sure, she could have "corrected him" on social media, Kardashian said, but she believes "people have their own journeys" they need to take. West did change his tune after the meeting, saying he'd been used to "spread messages I don't believe in." Catherine Garcia

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