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December 14, 2018

President Trump on Friday tweeted an announcement that Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, will step in as acting White House chief of staff.

Mulvaney, who also worked as the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before bowing out this week, will replace current White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who will depart at the end of the year. "Mick has done an outstanding job while in the administration," wrote Trump, "I look forward to working with him in this new capacity."

Trump additionally praised Kelly as a "great patriot" who "served our country with distinction." Trump's reported first choice to replace Kelly, Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff Nick Ayers, turned down the job, leaving Trump to consider several administration officials and lawmakers for the post. Summer Meza

9:28 a.m.

President Trump in a new interview on Tuesday downplayed recent actions by Iran, including an alleged attack on oil tankers, as "very minor."

Trump spoke to Time after the U.S. said that Iran was behind an attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, and as Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced that 1,000 additional troops would be sent to the Middle East.

But in an interview with Time, Trump said that "so far, it's been very minor," referring to Iran's actions. He said that he would "certainly" take military action against Iran "over nuclear weapons" but that "I would keep the other a question mark." Asked whether he is considering military action right now, Trump said, "I wouldn’t say that. I can't say that at all."

Time notes that this "very minor" comment "struck a different tone than the public stance of the Pentagon and other Republicans in Washington," with Shanahan having said that the "hostile behavior by Iranian forces and their proxy groups ... threaten United States personnel and interests across the region." National Security Adviser John Bolton also recently told the Washington Free Beacon that Iran "would be making a big mistake if they doubted the president's resolve on this." Brendan Morrow

8:45 a.m.

A New Zealand man has received a 21-month prison sentence for sharing video of the Christchurch mosque shooting online.

44-year-old Philip Neville Arps received this sentence of almost two years in prison after pleading guilty to two charges of distributing objectionable material, CNN reports.

The gunman who killed 51 people at two Christchurch mosques in March streamed his attack on Facebook for nearly 20 minutes, and in New Zealand, it's a crime to distribute material showing "extreme violence and terrorism," The New York Times reports.

Arps reportedly sent video of the shooting to about 30 people online. He also reportedly asked for a "kill count" to be added to the footage and described it as "awesome," BBC News reports. He was previously charged in 2016 for leaving a pig's head at the Al Noor mosque, one of the two mosques the gunman attacked in March.

"It is clear from all the material before me that you have strong and unrepentant views towards the Muslim community," Judge Stephen O'Driscoll said, CNN reports.

Arps' lawyer said he would appeal the sentence, The New York Times reports.Brendan Morrow

7:53 a.m.

Former UEFA President Michel Platini has been detained for questioning in connection with a corruption investigation into the decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup, CNN reports.

Platini, who in 2015 was banned from football for four years over ethics violations after receiving $2 million from FIFA, has not been charged. But he was taken into custody as French prosecutors have been looking into the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a decision that was made in 2010. A probe into possible conspiracy and influence-peddling has been ongoing since 2016, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Platini in 2015 said that he "might have told" officials from the United States he would vote for the U.S. to receive the 2022 World Cup, but he has said that a meeting with then French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Qatar’s crown prince less than two weeks prior to the vote did not influence his decision, The Associated Press reports.

Sophie Dion, Sarkozy's sports adviser who was in attendance for the meeting in question, was also detained on Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reports.

FIFA on Tuesday said that it is "concerning" to hear news of Platini's detainment and that it "reiterates its full commitment to cooperating with the authorities in any given country of the world where investigations are taking place in connection with football activities." Brendan Morrow

7:48 a.m.

The reclusive Mercer family was one of President Trump's biggest and most influential backers in 2016, pouring at least $15.5 million into different organizations working to elect Trump, pumping another $10 million into Trump-friendly media company Breitbart News, and investing millions more into Cambridge Analytica, the now-disbanded Facebook-mining data firm Robert Mercer cofounded in 2013. Their influence was so great with Trump they installed Steven Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to run his campaign in its final months, Rebekah Mercer was a senior member of Trump's presidential transition team, and the family donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration fund.

The 2020 election cycle? "Crickets," a prominent Republican strategist tells Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman. "They're gone."

In fact, the Mercers have drastically cut back their political spending in recent months and don't plan on playing a significant role in 2020, Sherman reports, citing half a dozen sources. The reported reasons include disagreement with Trump's job performance and fallout from their support of Trump and Bannon — their cherished privacy was eroded, Robert Mercer was pushed out as co-CEO of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies in November 2017, they were "spooked" by the FBI's investigation of Cambridge Analytica, and generally, "they've been destroyed," a former West Wing official told Vanity Fair.

Plus, the Mercers essentially got what they wanted out of Trump's victory, and it wasn't necessarily President Trump. "They never really liked Trump," a source close to the Mercers told Sherman. They were supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and they only came around to Trump when he was the last option against Hillary Clinton. "Trump was just Bob's play against Hillary," a former Renaissance executive told Sherman. "Bob said she and her husband were murderers who would destroy the country. He thought she was an evil person and a socialist." The Mercers did not respond to Vanity Fair's request for comment. Peter Weber

6:23 a.m.

President Trump will officially launch his re-election campaign at a rally in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday night, somewhat paradoxically pitching himself as a political outsider who has kept his promises during his 29 months as president, according to advisers. Trump has already described his audience Tuesday night as record-setting, and he is expected to fill the 18,500-seat Amway Center — some fans are already camping outside. He will reportedly tout the strong economy and his actions on taxes, military spending, and confirming conservative judges.

Trump will be joined onstage by wife Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and members of his family and 2016 campaign. He is struggling in the polls — both public and leaked internal ones — apparently angry about the leak, his approval rating has hovered around 40 percent all term, and his campaign's abrupt firing of three of its five pollsters has only highlighted the chaos and internal strife inside the Trump orbit. One of the fired pollsters ran the firm started by senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, "and advisers said the ouster of the three firms was primarily targeted as a jab at her," supported by senior Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, The Washington Post reports.

Trump's campaign says the president's campaign is in good shape, his loyal base doesn't care about internal campaign dynamics, and the polls are meaningless this far out from the 2020 election. "Nothing will get in the way of the tremendous kickoff and the momentum the president will have and sustain through Election Day next year," said Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh. Peter Weber

5:04 a.m.

"O.J. Simpson, the notorious memorabilia thief and officially no other kind of criminal," just joined Twitter, Trevor Noah said on Monday's Daily Show. One of O.J.'s first video tweets certainly got people's attention. "Whoa, 'I got a little getting even to do?'" Noah said. "If you're O.J. Simpson, there are some phrases that you should never use," including "Have you seen my gloves?" and "'Pass me the knife.' No, O.J., you cut your steak with a fork, my friend."

"Imagine getting a push notification saying 'O.J. Simpson is now following you,'" Noah shuddered. "That's the scariest phrase in the English language. He should have joined SnapChat — at least they destroy the evidence for you."

Yes, "if you thought Trump on Twitter was scary, wait til you get a notification that says 'O.J. Simpson is now following you,'" Jimmy Fallon said on The Tonight Show. "But it's crazy — O.J. made a Twitter account and he's already got over 600,000 followers. That's more followers than when he was driving the white Bronco. Even crazier, O.J. just got a message from Trump asking if he'd be the White House press secretary."

It wasn't just O.J. burning up Twitter, though. "Yesterday, O.J., Bill Cosby, and Donald Trump all tweeted at right around the same time — it was like the Thanos snap of social media," Jimmy Kimmel said on Kimmel Live. He read Cosby's odd jailhouse Father's Day tweet, musing: "How is it that Bill Cosby is legally blind, tweeting from, presumably, a prison library computer, there are still fewer typos and spelling errors than every one of the president's tweets?"

"O.J. is only following eight people, which is probably good because I can't think of anything scarier than getting a notification on my phone saying 'O.J. Simpson is following you,'" Kimmel said. "We can't have the measles and O.J. back at the same time, it's too much." Watch below. Peter Weber

3:56 a.m.

In a tweet Monday night, President Trump said that "next week," Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents "will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States." Trump appears to be referring to a real plan "in preparation for months that aims to round up thousands of migrant parents and children in a blitz operation across major U.S. cities," The Washington Post notes, but "publicizing a future law enforcement operation is unheard of at ICE."

"U.S. officials with knowledge of the preparations have said in recent days that the operation was not imminent, and ICE officials said late Monday night that they were not aware that the president planned to divulge their enforcement plans on Twitter," the Post reports. "Executing a large-scale operation of the type under discussion requires hundreds — and perhaps thousands — of U.S. agents and supporting law enforcement personnel, as well as weeks of intelligence gathering and planning," and ICE, busy with the surge of migrants at the border, doesn't appear to have the numbers or the budget to deport "millions" of people.

Still, Trump's acting Homeland Security Department leadership appears more compliant than the officials he pushed out in April, notably Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and ICE director Ronald Vitiello. Both "were ousted after they hesitated to go forward with the plan, expressing concerns about its preparation, effectiveness, and the risk of public outrage from images of migrant children being taken into custody," the Post reports.

The Trump advisers pushing the plan argue a big, dramatic show of mass arrests would serve as a deterrent and warning to undocumented immigrants in defiance of deportation orders, but there are risks other than bad publicity, the Post notes, including the likelihood "that families will be inadvertently separated by the operation, especially because parents in some households have deportation orders but their children — some of whom are U.S. citizens — might not." Read more at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

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