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February 21, 2018

President Trump's administration apparently sees political opportunity in the deaths of Russian mercenaries.

Bloomberg Politics reported Wednesday that the White House is thinking about touting the deaths of "scores" of Russian fighters, who were recently killed by U.S.-backed forces in Syria, as proof that the president is, in fact, hard on Russia. The U.S.-backed forces reportedly killed the Russian troops in self-defense in an encounter on Feb. 7, after they were attacked by a "battalion-sized formation supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars."

However, the attack by the Russians "may have been a rogue operation," Bloomberg reports, and the U.S. apparently believes that this attack was not done with the permission or prior knowledge of the Russian military. It is also "unclear when the White House learned of the attack," Bloomberg notes — all of which could make it difficult to claim the counterattack as proof of the president's tough stance towards Russia. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referenced a vague "incident" in her Tuesday press briefing that was "another way that this president was tough on Russia," but she did not offer details.

The strategy reportedly stems from the fact that the Trump administration is feeling the squeeze to stand up to Russia after Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians last week for meddling in the 2016 election. The president has long called the idea of Russian meddling "a hoax" and has been reluctant to criticize Russia. Kelly O'Meara Morales

7:50 a.m.

A local affiliate of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing on Saturday night at a crowded wedding party in Kabul, Afghanistan. The blast killed at least 63 people, including women and children, and another 182 were injured.

The Taliban, which is negotiating an end to an 18-year conflict with the United States, condemned the violence and denied any involvement. "The attack on the wedding hall is a brutal act," Sohail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban said. "The Islamic Emirate condemns it in the strongest terms. We share the sorrow of the people."

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani, on the other hand, was not ready to rid them of responsibility. In a tweet expressing condolences to the victims, Ghani wrote that the "Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for the provide platform for terrorists."

The attack occurred in a neighborhood in the western part of the city that is home to many of the country's Shiite Hazara community. ISIS, whose members follow Sunni doctrine, have frequently claimed responsibility for attacks targeting Shiites. The militant group's statement said a Pakistani ISIS fighter seeking martyrdom targeted the gathering.

The incident has stoked fear. Mohammed Naeem, a part owner of the venue where the attack occurred, said "very few people may dare to go to wedding halls from now on." Read more at The Associated Press and The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

August 17, 2019

Delays, delays, delays.

The U.S. Commerce Department is expected to grant Huawei a 90-day extension that permits the Chinese technology firm to buy supplies from U.S. companies, two sources familiar with the situation told Reuters. The reason behind the extension is so that Huawei can service existing customers. The agreement, which was set to lapse on Aug. 19, will allow Huawei to maintain existing telecommunications networks and provide software updates to Huawei handsets.

The U.S. blacklisted Huawei earlier this year, alleging the company could potentially harm U.S. national security and foreign policy interests. Reuters reports that the decision to grant Huawei the temporary reprieve could change by Monday. President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to discuss the firm in a call this weekend.

It's the second significant delay this week amid the ongoing trade war between Beijing and Washington. On Tuesday, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative announced certain products would not be subject to a 10 percent tariff on Chinese imports to the U.S. until after the holiday season. Huawei throws another wrinkle into the U.S.'s plan, as analysts question what the concessions might mean for potential future negotiations.

Read more at Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

August 17, 2019

As promised, El Paso, Texas, came out in support of Antonio Basco, whose wife, Margie Reckard, was killed in a mass shooting in the city earlier in August that resulted in 22 deaths.

Basco asked the funeral home that was managing Reckard's service to put out a public invitation to attend, as he had no other family in the area. Within 24 hours people from Texas, across the country, and around the world responded with flowers, cards, and heartfelt notes on social media. Over 1,000 people have also donated to a GoFundMe campaign, raising more than $25,000 to help Basco with expenses.

Ultimately, the service Basco thought no one would attend was filled with 400 mourners, while hundreds of others stood outside in 100-degree heat to pay their respects.

"People were telling me they came from different faiths, different cities," Reckard's grandson, Tyler, said. "It's just incredible how much love and support every single one of you has shown." Tim O'Donnell

August 17, 2019

As early as 2017, the Trump administration tried for months to grant states the power to deny undocumented immigrant children from enrolling in public schools, Bloomberg reports.

President Trump's senior adviser, Stephen Miller, who is known for his hardline stance on immigration, spearheaded the effort, people familiar with the situation said. Ultimately, however, the contingent supporting the measure abandoned the idea upon realization that the plan would likely violate Plyler v. Doe, a 1982 Supreme Court case that prohibited states from denying free public education based on immigration status. The court ruled that punishing children for their parents' actions "does not comport with fundamental conceptions of justice."

Miller's efforts reportedly included consideration of a guidance memo issued by the Education Department that would tell states they had the option to refuse students with an undocumented status to attend school, but it was never issued. Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said it was never issued because it would never have even been considered.

While nothing came of the efforts, it fits in with the White House's larger efforts to discourage illegal crossings at the southern border. Read more at Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

August 17, 2019

The Kennedy political dynasty could return to the Senate, The New York Times reports.

An anonymous senior Democratic official told the Times that Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.), the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, is contemplating launching a primary challenge against Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) next year. The official said the congressman would make a decision in the coming weeks, although Politico reports that Kennedy's House re-election campaign maintains that he's staying in that chamber of Congress.

But the 38-year-old Kennedy has garnered enthusiasm from would-be supporters and his aides did not deny that they commissioned testing his prospects against Markey, which the Times reports even Markey's advisers acknowledged would likely show Kennedy leading.

The possibility of a high-profile primary face-off between Markey and Kennedy would be another example of the youth movement within the Democratic Party challenging the "old guard." Markey is 73, but he is also a "committed" progressive in the same mold as Kennedy. Their divide, then, would be more along generational lines than ideology.

Kennedy is popular, but even if he does decide to run for Senate, his last name isn't likely to scare off Markey. "Ed is not going anywhere," Paul Tencher, a senior adviser to Markey's campaign, told the Times. "He's going to run, and he's going to run no matter who is in this race." Markey has already secured the support of his colleague Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Warren's seat, of course, could be another opportunity for Kennedy — and others — to seek election to the Senate if she wins the presidency in 2020. Read more at The New York Times and Politico. Tim O'Donnell

August 17, 2019

Gibraltar is ready to free the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1, but the United States is not on the same page, as tensions remain high between Washington and Tehran.

The U.S. Department of Justice has issued a warrant to seize an Iranian oil tanker detained in Gibraltar, a day after a judge in Gibraltar ordered it released. In a court document obtained by Reuters, the U.S. said there was evidence that showed the tanker — which was seized by British Royal Marines in July — was taking oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions (an accusation Iran has consistently denied) and that the ship has ties to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the Trump administration designated a terrorist organization.

The warrant calls for the tanker and the 2.1 million barrels of oil on board to be seized and has also ordered the seizure of $995,000 from an account at an unnamed U.S. bank linked to Paradise Global Trading LLC, an Iranian company. The Justice Department said the ship was in violation of bank fraud, money laundering, and terrorism forfeiture statutes.

Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics, said "it would take a great deal of arm-twisting" for the U.S. to convince the court in Gibraltar to take the tanker back. Tim O'Donnell

August 17, 2019

Peter Fonda, who starred in the Hollywood film Easy Rider, died on Friday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 79. His family said in a statement that the cause was respiratory failure resulting from lung cancer.

Fonda hailed from an iconic Hollywood family. His father, Henry Fonda, and his older sister, Jane Fonda, were both Academy Award winners. Fonda was known for his rebellious nature on and off the screen. His most famous role was the character Wyatt in 1969's Easy Rider, a counterculture film which film critic Roger Ebert once called "one of the rallying-points of the late '60s." He also contributed to the screenplay, for which he and his fellow writers — including his co-star Dennis Hopper — were nominated for an Academy Award.

Many directors, actors, and writers took time to share their appreciation for Fonda, including Edgar Writer, Ava DuVernay, and Rob Reiner.

Jane Fonda, who said she was with her brother over his final days, said "he went out laughing." Tim O'Donnell

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