August 13, 2019

President Trump provided soundbites like it was 2016 (or, really, any year since) on Tuesday when speaking with reporters as he prepared to board Marine One.

Over the roar of the chopper, Trump re-upped a baseless conspiracy theory tying former President Bill Clinton to Jeffrey Epstein's death, criticized Chris Cuomo's recent outburst, and gave an ambivalent answer to a question about the situation in Hong Kong.

When asked about the protests in Hong Kong, Trump said he just wants the "very tough situation" to work out for "everybody, including China, by the way" and hopes "nobody gets killed." That answer may seem wishy-washy, but it appears to be in line with his strategy on the matter — Trump reportedly told Chinese President Xi Jinping that the U.S. would tone down its criticism of China regarding its approach to Hong Kong, as Washington and Beijing try to iron out a trade deal. Still, that's not how everyone wanted him to respond.

The president also continued to tout the Clinton-Epstein conspiracy, arguing that investigators need to figure out whether Clinton, who frequently flew on Epstein's plane, ever went to the alleged sex trafficker's private island in the Caribbean. "If you find that out, you're going to know a lot," Trump said after being asked if he thought the Clintons were involved in Epstein's death in his Manhattan jail cell.

Trump was relatively coy with those answers, but he was anything but vague when discussing CNN's Cuomo, who was involved in an altercation on Monday evening after a man called him "Fredo." In Trump's mind, Cuomo wasn't actually acting like Michael Corleone's frustrated older brother in The Godfather, but a "total out of control animal." Tim O'Donnell

10:38 a.m.

Vice President Mike Pence's newest hire already seems pretty comfortable in the White House.

Pence has tapped Katie Waldman as his new press secretary, Pence's Chief of Staff Marc Short confirmed to NBC News on Thursday. She previously was an deputy press secretary in the Department of Homeland Security, is currently Sen. Martha McSally's (D-Ariz.) communications director, and, as The Washington Post's Nick Miroff notes, is dating President Trump's adviser Stephen Miller.

Waldman served under former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during the height of the Trump administration's family separation crisis, and with her focus on immigration, became one of the leading defenders of the "zero tolerance" policy. Perhaps uncoincidentally, Miller was reportedly the "architect" of that policy that split migrant children from their parents at the border, as well as several other hardline immigration ideas.

Regardless of who drew it up, Waldman's unflinching defense of the Trump immigration agenda "impressed a lot of people in the administration," one DHS official tells NBC News. "She's shown she has the mettle to handle intense environments," including the intense media scrutiny of DHS throughout the past year, Short added. Waldman starts Oct. 1, and will be Pence's top spokesperson as he and Trump head into an election year. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:42 a.m.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell is sticking around, President Trump says, because, well, sure.

Trump spoke to Fox News for an interview Wednesday after lashing out at Powell as someone with "no 'guts,' no sense, no vision!" The president has lobbied the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates to "zero, or less," and he has in the past argued that he is within his right to fire Powell.

But amid these continued attacks — including Trump last month wondering out loud whether Powell is a bigger enemy of the United States than Chinese President Xi Jinping — Trump says he supposes is here to stay.

"It's safe, yeah, it's safe," Trump said when asked if Powell's job is safe. "I mean, sure, why not?"

Trump went on to simply offer that Powell has "got a job" before again voicing his disappointment with him following the Fed's light rate cut. Powell when asked Wednesday if he has a response to Trump's Twitter attacks said, per CNBC's Eamon Javers, "I don't." Brendan Morrow

9:21 a.m.

There appears to be a third documented instance of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in racist makeup.

On Wednesday evening, Time published a photo of Trudeau in brownface makeup, prompting him to apologize and say he'd also worn blackface in high school. And on Thursday morning, Global News published what seems to be a third documented instance of Trudeau in racist makeup: A grainy video of a man who appears to be Trudeau with his arms, legs, and face covered in dark makeup.

The video is low quality, and features what appears to be several people in blackface. The man said to be Trudeau has painted his face with dark makeup and is wearing a T-shirt that shows his arms are painted as well. When the camera pans down his body, it seems to show his knees — visible through holes in his jeans — are painted too. Global News says it "obtained the video from a source earlier this week but had been attempting to verify it before publishing." The source "would not confirm or deny that it was Trudeau in the video or the time and place of the video," Global News continues. A senior member of Trudeau's Liberal party campaign confirmed it was him.

Following Time's publication Wednesday night, Trudeau said "I should have known better and I didn't. I'm really sorry." He also said he "didn’t consider [the brownface makeup] racist at the time, but now we know better." The video comes just a week after Trudeau launched his reelection campaign, and has sparked condemnation from much of his Liberal party colleagues. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:08 a.m.

Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is rolling out his campaign's health care proposal, which he's referring to as "Medicare for all who want it."

Buttigieg, who in last week's Democratic debate drew a contrast between his position on health care reform and the Medicare-for-all proposals from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), announced Thursday new details of his plan to offer a public option alongside private insurance.

"If private insurers are not able to offer something dramatically better, this public plan will create a natural glide-path to Medicare for All," Buttigieg says on his website. He also touts that his plan "gives the American people a choice." Other details of his proposal include expanding premium subsidies and automatically enrolling low-income Americans who live in states that didn't expand Medicaid.

In a op-ed for The Washington Post published Thursday, Buttigieg additionally writes that "there's a real difference" between his plan and that of Sanders and Warren, writing that he wouldn't be "flipping a switch and kicking almost 160 million Americans off their private insurance." Vice President Joe Biden's plan is similar to Buttigieg's, as he has proposed adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act.

Buttigieg in his op-ed also argues his opponents are not being "honest and straightforward about the details" of their plans and writes that his, which he says costs $1.5 trillion over a decade, will "bring us together rather than push us even further apart."

The Washington Post's Paige Winfield Cunningham writes that Buttigieg is a "prime example of how most of the Democratic presidential contenders have distanced themselves from the dramatic overhaul envisioned by Sanders," although Vox's Dylan Scott argues the plan is "still ambitious" and "very much reflects the leftward shift of the Democratic mainstream." Brendan Morrow

8:19 a.m.

The truth is out there, or at least outside the U.S. military's realm of expertise. On Wednesday, however, Navy spokesman Joe Gradisher confirmed the authenticity of videos of mysterious unidentified flying objects captured by Navy pilots and published in late 2017 and 2018 by The New York Times and To The Stars Academy of Arts and Sciences (TTSA), a group cofounded by Blink 182's Tom DeLonge to research UFOs. Only the Navy doesn't call them UFOs.

The three videos "show incursions into our military training ranges by unidentified aerial phenomena," Gradisher said in a statement. "The Navy has characterized the observed phenomena as unidentified." CNN has some video of these UAPs, plus a first-hand account of their behavior and a quote from a former Pentagon UAP researcher suggesting "we may not be alone."

Gradisher would not speculate what the pilots saw, explaining that the Navy uses the term UAP to describe "any aerial phenomenon that cannot immediately be identified," but he did say "sightings of this nature have increased in frequency" since consumer drones have become more prevalent.

The Navy cares about the objects because UAP "incursions present a safety hazard to the safe flight of our aviators and the security of our operations," he added, and the Navy now encourages pilots to report any sightings. "For many years, our aviators didn't report these incursions because of the stigma attached to previous terminology and theories about what may or may not be in those videos," he said. Don't, in other words, call them UFOs.

Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, told NBC News that "the videos weren't really being questioned," and there's probably no easy answer to what those Navy pilots observed, "but when I look at these things I see no reason to consider them good evidence for 'alien visitation,' which is what the public likes to think they are." Peter Weber

7:54 a.m.

For Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his critics in Congress, Festivus may be coming early this year.

The Facebook boss is on Capitol Hill this week to meet with lawmakers, which comes as Reuters writes the company is seeking to improve its reputation in Washington, D.C. The aim, Facebook says, is to discuss "future internet regulation," although Politico reports that "officials set to huddle with the Facebook chief say they also plan to air their grievances about the company's conduct."

Among the lawmakers Zuckerberg is set to meet with is Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who in the past has been highly critical of Facebook amid its numerous privacy scandals and has voiced concerns about its plans to launch a cryptocurrency, Libra. Schatz told Politico he'll bring the planned cryptocurrency up with Zuckerberg, saying, "I just don't like the Libra idea."

Zuckerberg, Axios reports, is also set to meet with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), another Facebook critic who said in an interview with The Verge earlier this year, "I think Facebook is an extremely creepy company. I don't know if they've done a good job with anything. I'm not a very big fan." The Hill's Emily Birnbaum reports Zuckerberg and Hawley will meet Thursday, and Reuters reports Zuckerberg will also meet with members of the Trump administration. He already dined with some lawmakers, including Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), on Wednesday evening.

This is Zuckerberg's first time back on Capitol Hill since he testified before Congress about the Cambridge Analytica scandal in April 2018. Needless to say, a lot has happened since then, including the Federal Trade Commission launching an antitrust probe of Facebook, as well as the FTC fining Facebook $5 billion for its privacy practices. Unlike last time, none of Zuckerberg's events this week will be public. Brendan Morrow

6:55 a.m.

Republicans for the Rule of Law, an organization led by Bill Kristol that describes itself as a "group of life-long Republicans dedicated to defending the institutions of our republic and upholding the rule of law," is taking aim at Vice President Mike Pence in an ad debuting on Thursday's Morning Joe on MSNBC. The ad accuses Pence of hypocrisy for criticizing the Clintons for taking foreign money while saying nothing about President Trump's open pockets for Saudi cash. The group is spending $20,000 to air the tough-love ad, USA Today reports, and its rebuke of Pence is more in sorrow than anger.

Why pick on Pence? "It's pretty clear that President Trump isn't going to listen," explained Chris Truax, a spokesman for Republicans for the Rule of Law. "Vice President Pence might listen."

Pence's chief of staff, Marc Short, shrugged off the ad as a bit of #NeverTrump irrelevance. "Without free promotion by anti-Trump press, no one would even know they still existed," he said in a statement. But many members of the group would have once considered themselves Pence Republicans, and some still regard the vice president fondly. One member of the group's board of directors, Peter Rusthoven, is from Pence's home state of Indiana. Pence officiated his remarriage. He didn't participate in making the ad.

"I have had an affection for him and admired many of the things he has said and done," but the ad makes "a legitimate point," Rusthoven told USA Today. "Choices have consequences for everyone. One is, he's in this situation now. And it will inevitably affect how people look at him. That's just part of the deal." Peter Weber

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