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April 18, 2019

Fox News' Chris Wallace thinks Attorney General William Barr sounds a lot like a counselor to the president right about now.

The Fox anchor spoke after Barr's press conference about the impending release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, noting that the attorney general got into a "curious area" when he sympathetically talked about Trump's frustrations with the Mueller probe and the media's "relentless" coverage of it to argue Trump did not have corrupt intent.

Wallace observed that Barr "almost seemed to be acting as the counselor for the defense, the counselor for the president rather than the attorney general, talking about his motives, talking about his anger, his feeling that this was unfair … really making a case for the president.”

As a result of this, Wallace imagined that "Democrats' heads on Capitol Hill were exploding." Brendan Morrow

12:16 p.m.

So much for that surprise bipartisan infrastructure success in April.

Weeks after President Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) cordially sat through a meeting and agreed that the government's new infrastructure package would require about $2 trillion in funding and investments, the president is putting the deal on hold. The trio met again on Wednesday, but Trump abruptly left the meeting, and as he passed reporters on the way out, told them that he would not negotiate with Democratic leadership until several House and Senate committees ceased investigating Trump and his administration.

Trump said he told Pelosi and Schumer he wanted to work with them on infrastructure, but not "under these circumstances." He then called an impromptu press conference, where he reiterated many of his opinions that he frequently shares on his Twitter account — namely that there was no collusion between Russia and his 2016 presidential campaign and that the Democratic-led investigations were part of a grand hoax. He said he respects the oversight role of Congress and the courts but claimed "what they've done is abuse." Tim O'Donnell

12:12 p.m.

Remember Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam?

The Democrat got into some major hot water back in February when a photo of two people, one in blackface and one in a Ku Klux Klan robe, was found on his Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook page. Yet Northam somehow sunk from the spotlight as EVMS conducted a probe into the picture. And more than three months later, investigators have decided not to decide if Northam was in it.

A conservative publication posted Northam's 1984 yearbook page back in early February, and several sources confirmed it was real. Northam first said he was — and then said he wasn't — in the photo, so EVMS commissioned a report to determine the answer. Yet even after interviewing Northam and his former classmates, investigators "could not conclusively determine the identity of either individual depicted in the photograph," the report released Wednesday details.

Northam denied he was in the photo following its release, but said he had worn blackface on a separate occasion. He then resisted scathing calls for his resignation. That move would've left Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) in charge, but he was quickly accused of sexual assault by two women. Fairfax denied the allegations.

Find the whole EVMS report here. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:04 p.m.

President Trump on Wednesday lashed out against comments made by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) after making no progress with Democrats on an infrastructure deal.

Trump spoke in an impromptu press conference after Pelosi earlier in the morning had said that he is "engaged in a cover-up," and after briefly meeting with both Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

"Instead of walking in happily into a meeting, I walk in to look at people that had just said that I was doing a cover-up," Trump said. "I don't do cover-ups."

Trump claimed that he is "the most transparent president probably in the history of this country" but said that he would not work with Democrats on issues like infrastructure until they "get these phony investigations over with." CNN reports Trump walked out of the infrastructure meeting after five minutes. Brendan Morrow

11:20 a.m.

Baseball is at the threshold of change. While speeding up game time and the possible implementation of a computerized strike zone are at the forefront of on-field changes, they probably won't have as big a long-term impact as the fight for change concerning the league's labor system. Carter Stewart, a 19-year-old pitcher who decided to skip the upcoming MLB draft and sign with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of the Japanese Pacific League, could be one of the catalysts in that regard, ESPN reports.

Even highly-drafted baseball prospects rely mostly on their signing bonuses, before rambling through the minor leagues on low annual salaries. Once they get to the majors, players still don't make much until they become arbitration eligible, or perhaps sign an extension. Therefore, their long-term futures are left up to chance. An early-career injury, for example, could prevent even the most talented players from receiving long-term financial security.

Stewart, who was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the first round of last year's draft, but did not sign when the team lowered their offer because of an alleged injury, was expected to go early in the second round this year, which would likely have netted him somewhere around a $2 million bonus. But he decided to opt for a six-year, $7 million contract with incentives with Fukuoka instead — choosing stability, guaranteed money, and greater autonomy. If all goes well for Stewart, who is the first American amateur to sign with a Japanese team, he'll then become a free agent at the age of 25 if he ultimately wishes to return to the U.S.

Japanese teams are only allowed to have four foreign players on their rosters, so it's unlikely there will be a massive wave following in Stewart's footsteps. But, as ESPN writes, he could serve as a precedent that gives amateurs leverage in future negotiations. Read more at ESPN. Tim O'Donnell

11:11 a.m.

Amazon is aiming to increase worker productivity in its warehouses by turning a normal day's tasks into video games.

The online retail giant has started installing screens at workers' stations loaded with video games that mirror the real-life actions of the workers. The faster a worker loads a box, the further they advance in games like PicksInSpace, Mission Racer and CastleCrafter, reports The Verge.

Games have only been installed at five warehouses in the U.S. and U.K. so far, and they are voluntary. At at least one facility, workers are incentivized to partake in the games by being rewarded "swag bucks," a company currency that can be put toward Amazon-branded merchandise, per The Verge.

The games, which pit employees against each other, are also an attempt to make work more enjoyable for employees. Workers have previously discussed the intense and sometimes toxic work culture at Amazon. Marianne Dodson

11:06 a.m.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin needs a lesson in recent history.

After officially denying the House Oversight Committee's request for President Trump's tax returns last week, Mnuchin appeared before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday to discuss an unrelated topic. Except the tax returns inevitably came up, and when they did, Mnuchin made a provably false claim about Trump's commitment to releasing them.

In Wednesday's hearing, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Co.) asked Mnuchin to explain how the "tradition of other presidents releasing their tax returns" factored into Mnuchin's rejection of the House's tax return subpoena. "It didn't," Mnuchin answered, and went on to say "the American public knew that [Trump] wasn't releasing his tax returns prior to voting for him and they made that decision."

Here's the thing: The American public didn't know that. Back in 2014, Trump told an Irish TV station that "if I decide to run for office, I'll produce my tax returns, absolutely. I'd love to do that." He gave several similar remarks up until Sept. 2016, CNN documents. Trump then started claiming he was "under a routine audit" and that he couldn't release his returns until it ended. As of last month, Trump was still claiming that audit was still underway, though the IRS commissioner quickly made it clear there's no rule stopping Trump from releasing his returns anyway. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:25 a.m.

The juicy Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker details you're looking for have arrived.

Vanity Fair is out with a new cover story for the film, which not only includes stunning photos from Annie Leibovitz (one of which shows a lightsaber battle possibly set on the Death Star) but also reveals tons of new information. Here are the most important details:

1. Names galore - Keri Russell is set to play a "masked scoundrel" whose name has been revealed as Zorri Bliss, while Richard E. Grant plays the First Order's Allegiant General Pryde. The film also features a desert planet called Pasaana, home to the Aki-Aki alien race, and a "snow-dusted" planet called Kijimi. Additionally, horse-like creatures called orbaks will be introduced.

2. Knights - The mysterious Knights of Ren from The Force Awakens are indeed back, and Vanity Fair describes them as the "elite fearsome enforcers of Kylo Ren's dark will."

3. As the Force wills it - The Force-connection between Kylo and Rey will "run even deeper than we thought," Vanity Fair reports.

4. War! - The film will "bring to a climax the millennia-long conflict between the Jedi Order and its dark shadow, the Sith," per Vanity Fair's sources.

5. Strong with this one - By the time the movie begins — about a year after The Last Jedi — Rey's training is "almost complete."

6. The chances of... - According to Anthony Daniels, C-3PO will do something in The Rise of Skywalker that "surprises everybody."

7. Royalty - Carrie Fisher's posthumous role will include scenes with her real-life daughter, Billie Lourd.

8. Sinister - More about the origins of the First Order will reportedly be revealed. Could their backstory be tied up with Emperor Palpatine's return?

9. Let the past die - After facing criticism for the overly-familiar nature of The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams says that for The Rise of Skywalker, he "felt slightly more renegade" and willing to make decisions "not because it adheres to something" but because it "feels right." Brendan Morrow

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