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January 12, 2019

After President Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, the FBI opened an investigation into whether Trump was secretly acting in Russian interests against the United States, The New York Times reported Friday evening, citing unnamed sources.

The probe was specifically prompted by Trump's repeated public linkage of the firing to the investigation into Russian election meddling, the Times story says, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller took over the FBI inquiry when he was appointed. The original probe had counterintelligence and criminal components, considering whether Trump threatened national security and whether the Comey firing obstructed justice.

A Friday statement from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the reported probe "absurd" and said Trump has taken a hard line toward Russia. Trump himself responded Saturday, describing the Times report as a story of his own persecution:

In subsequent tweets, he defended the Comey firing and claimed Comey and Mueller have a close relationship:

Comey has said he "admires" Mueller but they are "not friends in any social sense." Read the full New York Times report here. Bonnie Kristian

10:10 a.m.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wants a raincheck on President Trump's State of the Union.

The Democratic leader on Wednesday officially requested that the president delay his annual address, which is currently scheduled for Jan. 29, because of the partial government shutdown. She cites "security concerns," pointing out that the event requires "weeks of detailed planning with dozens of agencies" that would be difficult to accomplish since "critical departments" are currently "hamstrung by furloughs."

Pelosi suggests she and Trump work together to come up with a new date for the State of the Union that would be after the government re-opens. Alternatively, she suggests Trump simply deliver his address in writing instead of in person, as presidents did before former President Woodrow Wilson's administration. She notes that this is all assuming the government doesn't re-open this week, and with negotiations stalled, there is virtually no chance it does.

That latter suggestion will probably be a non-starter with Trump, whose conservative allies in the media had suggested use the address as an opportunity to rally the nation to his side in the shutdown battle. Fox News' Sean Hannity, for instance, had argued earlier this month that Trump should continue the shutdown until the end of January and, in his State of the Union address, "take his case directly to you, we the people," reports HuffPost.

Read Pelosi's full letter below. Brendan Morrow

9:50 a.m.

At least 16 people have reportedly been killed by a suicide bomber in Syria, and American service members are among them, Reuters reports via the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Wednesday attack, writing on its website that one of its fighters "detonated an explosive vest" next to a foreign patrol, BBC says. The bomber apparently "targeted U.S.-led coalition forces in the Kurdish-held" town, BBC writes, and a Kurdish news agency says "two American troops and one Kurdish fighter" were killed. The U.S.-led coalition against ISIS has since confirmed an unknown number of "U.S. service members were killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol in Syria."

The attack comes not long after President Trump announced a swift withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, declaring that ISIS is "defeated." Trump's move reportedly came "hastily" after a phone call from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and faced opposition from nearly all his advisers. America had been working with Kurdish allies to defend Syria against ISIS, and the Kurds denied Trump's claim of ISIS' defeat. Turkey and the Kurds have long been at odds, jeopardizing their safety if American troops leave the region. Tuesday's attack happened just 20 miles from the Syrian border with Turkey.

The White House and U.S. Central Commend have said they are aware of the reported attack, and the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS said it "will share additional details at a later time." Kathryn Krawczyk

9:40 a.m.

The White House isn't standing by Rep. Steve King's (R-Iowa) racist comments, either.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that King's recent statements were "abhorrent," NBC News' Peter Alexander reports. King last week wondered aloud in an interview with The New York Times why terms like "white nationalist" and "white supremacist" are considered "offensive." He later insisted that his comments were "completely mischaracterized," Fox News reports, although this was hardly his first offense.

King's remarks were widely condemned by Democrats and Republicans alike, and the House on Tuesday voted to denounce white supremacy in response; the vote was nearly unanimous, with the only dissenting congressman being Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who thought they should have gone further by censuring King, reports CNN. In addition to the rebuke, King was also stripped of his committee assignments.

But Sanders turned things around on Democrats Wednesday, saying that "the Republican leadership unlike Democrats have actually taken action when their members have said outrageous and inappropriate things." While she didn't cite specific examples, she may have in mind Rep. Rashida Tlaib's (D-Mich.) remark about Democrats preparing to "impeach the motherf---er," referring to President Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) later said in response that she "wouldn't use that language" but that she's "not in the censorship business" and that it wasn't "anything worse than what the president has said." Critics like The New York Times' Maggie Haberman, on the other hand, pointed out that Democrats pushed out former Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) over sexual misconduct allegations that he denied. Brendan Morrow

8:41 a.m.

YouTube is cracking down on dangerous pranks and challenges after one seriously misguided meme went viral.

The video streaming website has updated its guidelines to clarify what kinds of challenges and pranks are off-limits on the platform, BBC News reports. YouTube says any challenge that "can cause death and/or have caused death in some instances" is not welcome. Two specific dangerous stunts are mentioned: the Tide Pod challenge, in which participants would chew and spit up Tide Pods, and the Fire challenge, in which participants would briefly set a part of their body on fire.

YouTube additionally said any pranks "with a perceived danger of serious physical injury" are not allowed, such as "a home invasion prank or a drive-by shooting prank." Also, any prank that could emotionally traumatize a child is banned. YouTube's guidelines already prohibit any activity that "encourages violence or dangerous activities that may result in serious physical harm, distress, or death," but they now specifically outline how this affects the community's popular challenges and pranks, Gizmodo reports.

The description of banned material would seem to apply in some instances to the recent Bird Box challenge, in which participants attempt to do everyday activities while wearing blindfolds like the characters in the Netflix film Bird Box. A 17-year-old in Utah recently crashed his car while wearing a blindfold as part of this challenge, and Jake Paul, who has 17 million YouTube subscribers, also filmed a video in which he drives his car blindfolded, per The Verge. That video has since been removed. Brendan Morrow

8:23 a.m.

A new report from The New York Times details how, in 2017, after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin twice at the G-20 summit in Germany, Trump "telephoned a Times reporter and argued that the Russians were falsely accused of election interference." Although he asked that these comments be off-the-record, the Times' Peter Baker writes that Trump "later repeated a few things in public in little-noticed asides."

Putin had apparently told Trump that if Russia was behind election hacking, "we wouldn't have gotten caught because we're professionals," which Trump thought was a "good point." Trump also reportedly denigrated his intelligence officials as being "political." Trump has often cast doubt on his own intelligence community's conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, perhaps most infamously at the Helsinki summit with Putin in 2018.

The Times report follows a story from The Washington Post detailing how Trump has concealed records of his conversations with Putin on numerous occasions, even from senior White House officials. Trump's off-the-record phone call to the Times reportedly came after a meeting where he swiped his interpreter's notes and told them not to brief anyone on what was discussed, as well as after a second conversation with Putin that no Americans officials witnessed and wasn't disclosed until more than a week after it took place. Brendan Morrow

8:09 a.m.

Britain's lower house of Parliament voted 432-202 to reject Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plan on Tuesday night, and opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn quickly set in motion a vote of no confidence in May's government. After hours of debate, that vote will be held at 7 p.m. GMT on Wednesday. With few signs of defections, May is expected to survive this vote. If she doesn't, her Conservative Party and Labour will have 14 days to try to form a new government, and if neither succeeds, Britain will hold new national elections. The future of Britain's divorce from the European Union is unclear.

Tuesday's 230-vote loss set a new record, smashing the 166-vote loss a previous government suffered in 1924; this was the first time Parliament has ever defeated a treaty. The last successful no-confidence motion was in 1979, when the Labour government fell by one vote, ushering in Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Peter Weber

7:09 a.m.

"The partial government shutdown is inflicting far greater damage on the United States economy than previously estimated," The New York Times reports, citing new White House projections. "The analysis, and other projections from outside the White House, suggests that the shutdown has already weighed significantly on growth and could ultimately push the United States economy into a contraction." It has already sliced half a percentage point from economic growth and is tipped to get worse with each passing week.

White House officials are now cautioning Trump, "who has hitched his political success to the economy," about the economic toll of the shutdown, the Times reports. "Some people involved in the shutdown discussions in the White House have privately said they anticipate that Mr. Trump will grow anxious about the economic impact in the coming days, accelerating an end to the stalemate. Others close to the president believe Mr. Trump has leverage and are encouraging him to stand by his demands."

On CNN's New Day, contributor Frank Bruni and senior political analyst John Avlon were skeptical.

"This shutdown is a serious matter, but the question is: Who budges with this information?" Bruni asked. "I don't see Democrats moving, because they feel very confident in their position and they have every reason to," given public opinion, but "on the other side, for the president, every day this goes on it becomes an ever-more-fierce point of pride." "On the one hand, you've got the practical implications of the shutdown on real people, and the president's pride — these are not actually equivalent position," Avlon said. "And the president who's hitched his star on the economy is going to maybe pay attention to this report, because this is twice as bad as they expected." Peter Weber

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