January 21, 2019

Anthony Scaramucci spent just 11 days as White House communications director, but it was long enough for President Trump to determine that he is "completely out of his mind," a former aide writes in the latest book about the dysfunction taking place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Cliff Sims is the former White House director of message strategy, and his new book, Team of Vipers, goes on sale next week. The Washington Post received an advance copy, and Philip Rucker describes Sims as being "a true believer in Trump and his agenda" who wrote "whimsically of the president, but still is critical of him, especially his morality." Scaramucci's brief tenure merited an entire chapter in Team of Vipers, "The Mooch is Loose," painting a picture of a man rabidly searching for the people leaking to the media details about the inner workings of the White House.

Sims writes that Scaramucci threatened to fire all 40 media aides, and told them if anyone asked them to leak, they had to respond by saying no way, Jose. "I cannot do that," he reportedly ordered them to say. "I only report to Anthony Scaramucci and he reports directly to the president of the United States." Trump was tickled by Scaramucci, and asked Sims: "Can you believe this guy? He's completely out of his mind — like, on drugs or something — totally out of his mind. We'll figure it out, but the guy is crazy." Read more anecdotes from Team of Vipers — including several awkward encounters between Trump and former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

9:49 a.m.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who was removed from his committee assignments last month after comments about white supremacy, says he will seek re-election in 2020 and will do so with a clean conscience.

King in an interview with Iowa Public Television on Thursday said that he has "nothing to apologize for," immediately going after the news media and citing President Trump as saying The New York Times is "a dishonest entity." King in January had been quoted in a Times interview as saying, "White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?" The congressman also faced criticism in October after meeting with a group with Nazi ties and endorsing a white nationalist candidate for Toronto mayor, reports The Washington Post.

But King on Thursday blamed the outrage he has faced in recent months on "formerly credible" news organizations, which create a "phenomenon that America is not ready for, and that's this cyberbullying that unleashes." He insisted that there is "no story whatsoever" and that these reports from the Times and the Post were false.

In particular, King claimed he had been misquoted by the Times and that his question of "how did that language become offensive?" was only referring to the term "Western civilization," not the terms white nationalist and white supremacist. The Times interview, however, was far from the first time King came under fire for using white supremacist language. He had also said in 2017, "We can't restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies," later defending this comment by saying "it's not about race." Additionally, he said of the term "white nationalist" in 2018, "It is a derogatory term today. I wouldn't have thought so maybe a year or two or three ago." Brendan Morrow

9:09 a.m.

Duke said Thursday that freshman basketball superstar Zion Williamson suffered a mild knee sprain when his Nike PG 2.5 shoe burst apart at the start of the Blue Devils' prime-time televised game against North Carolina, suggesting he could return soon to the currently No. 1-ranked team, The Washington Post reported. Nike shares dropped by 1 percent on Thursday as the athletic apparel maker scrambled to figure out why the shoe disintegrated, per CNN.

Former President Barack Obama was courtside, and was shown in a widely seen video reacting by pointing toward Williamson and saying, "His shoe broke!"

Duke struggled after Williamson's injury, losing to No. 8 UNC in a stunning upset. The incident renewed debate over whether playing college ball is worth the risk for players who stand to make millions as pros. Harold Maass

8:46 a.m.

The CEO of Time's Up resigned last week after a sexual assault claim was made against her son, the organization said Friday.

Lisa Borders, who became the CEO and president of Time's Up in November 2018 after previously serving as president of the Women's National Basketball Association, announced Monday she had resigned "with deep regret" in order to "address family concerns." She did not provide further details at the time.

On Friday, though, Time's Up said that Borders had informed members last week that her son had been accused of sexual assault, and she decided to resign within 24 hours. "We agreed that it was the right decision for all parties involved," the statement adds. This followed a report from the Los Angeles Times on the allegations.

Borders was the first CEO and president of Time's Up, which formed in 2018 as a movement against sexual harassment and assault. The group says Chief Operating Officer Rebecca Goldman will serve as interim CEO "while we conduct an executive search." Brendan Morrow

8:20 a.m.

Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appears to be the only person arguing that the White House has complied with congressional demands that President Trump submit a report determining who is responsible for the murder of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October. Last November, Risch's predecessor, former Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and ranking Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.) had triggered the Global Magnitsky Act, giving Trump four months to report back.

Two weeks ago, when the 120-day deadline lapsed, the White House informed the Senate that Trump "maintains his discretion to decline to act on congressional committee requests when appropriate," which most senators took to mean Trump was violating the Magnitsky Act. But Risch has been telling his Republican committee colleagues that Trump has, in fact, complied with the law, Politico reports. A majority of senators, after getting a classified briefing on Khasoggi's murder, believe that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was at least complicit in the killing.

In effort to quell open GOP revolt on his committee, Risch sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a letter requesting a classified briefing on the administration's efforts to hold the Saudi government accountable. All but two committee Republicans — Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.) — signed the letter, Politico reports, and Democrats declined to sign it after Risch rejected their insertion of a line about how the White House "is not in compliance" with the law, "which is of grave concern to members of this committee." Peter Weber

7:52 a.m.

Jussie Smollett returned to work the day of his arrest and reportedly told Empire's cast and crew he's innocent.

Chicago police on Thursday arrested Smollett after a grand jury charged him with one count of felony disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report. Authorities said in a press conference that Smollett had staged an attack against himself because he was dissatisfied with his salary on Empire.

Empire is currently in the middle of production on the end of its fifth season. Smollett returned to work Thursday after paying a $10,000 bond, and according to CNN, he apologized to the cast and crew in a meeting. But he continued to maintain his innocence, which left one source in attendance "shocked and dismayed," CNN writes.

Fox said prior to Smollett's arrest that he is not being written off Empire after reports his scenes were being scaled back. But the network said Thursday, "We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options."

Smollett has not commented publicly since being charged, but his lawyers said in a statement Thursday that he "fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing." Chicago police say they have evidence that Smollett orchestrated the supposed hate crime, including a check written to the men he said attacked him. Brendan Morrow

6:50 a.m.

Rachel Maddow added a little something special to the historical record on MSNBC Thursday night, and she says it's pretty relevant to today's geopolitical situation. She began with a note Vice President George H.W. Bush wrote to disgraced former Vice President Spiro Agnew in October 1988, thanking him for his advice right before a game-changing presidential debate against Michael Dukakis. Agnew, Maddow reminded viewers, had resigned in 1973, right before Watergate broke, and narrowly avoided jail for tax fraud.

But her main event was a secret deal between Agnew and the Saudi crown prince in 1980. It starts with a telex in which Agnew begs the crown prince for an audience to address "a personal emergency that is of critical importance to me." An August 1980 letter spells out what that personal emergency was. Maddow summarized it like this: "Spiro Agnew was writing to the Saudi royal family to solicit their help, their financial support, for him to lead a scorched-earth propaganda campaign in the United States to expose the Jews. To wage a political war on Jews in America."

Specifically, Agnew painted a conspiracy to destroy him by "Zionists" and the media "they" control, and asked for $600,000 that he could live off while he continued "my fight against the Zionist enemies who are destroying my once great nation." And in Maddow's "favorite part," Agnew signed off: "My congratulations to Your Highness on the clear and courageous call to Jihad."

"The jihad-congratulations reference there appears to be a reference to the fact that the Saudi crown prince, just days earlier, had publicly called for a holy war against Israel," Maddow explained. And the Saudis appear to have given him at least $100,000. "Less than 10 years out of office, a former American vice president orchestrated a secret financial deal with Saudi Arabia to fight Jews in this country," she reiterated. "That seems like something that should matter even today," when the same Saudi royal family is in control. Watch below. Peter Weber

5:17 a.m.

Former President Barack Obama was at the Duke-North Carolina game Wednesday night when Duke star Zion Williamson's shoe split, leaving him with a knee injury, and Stephen Colbert showed Obama mouthing "His shoe broke" at the game on Thursday's Late Show. "It's so refreshing to see a president who can actually see a problem and identify it — you know Trump would have said 'Fake shoes,'" he said. "Of course, Obama's not everybody's cup of tea. Some people prefer Trump. For instance a lot of local news stations are owned by a company called the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which has been accused of being pro-Trump."

On Monday, Sinclair made 50 stations broadcast a "must-run video" from chief political analysts and former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn, and one particularly sycophantic suggestion caught Colbert's attention. "Trump on Rushmore might not be that far-fetched because — and I swear this is real — there's a section of the mountain that already kind of looks like him," he said, showing the image. "But if pro-Trump reporting and his aging skinhead fanboys calm, then we've prepared an ever more pro-Trump message from our in-house broadcast team Real News Tonight."

Also on Thursday, Trump friend and longtime adviser Roger Stone was hauled into court over an Instagram post that seemed to threaten Judge Amy Berman Jackson with crosshairs. In one of his funnier excuses, Stone said he thought the crosshairs was a Celtic symbol. "Oh yes," Colbert deadpanned. "It goes back to Roman times when the Celts in Northern Europe used to threaten judges on Instagram."

The judge told Stone she had "serious doubts" he's learned "any lesson at all" and appears "to need clear boundaries" — "Yes, possibly a series of vertical steel boundaries," Colbert suggested — and she gave Stone a full gag order. "So if you want to communicate with Roger Stone," Colbert said, "do it the old-fashioned way and contact him through his Russian hackers." Peter Weber

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