President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have become bonafide frenemies, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says there's no going back.
Last week, Graham revealed he no longer thinks Sessions should be leading the Justice Department, telling reporters it's time for a "fresh voice" that the president "has faith in." And in a Tuesday Today show appearance, the senator hinted at why he's changed his mind.
Host Savannah Guthrie began by asking why Graham would encourage Trump to fire Sessions, because it appears Trump's "only beef" is that the attorney general recused himself from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. "It's much deeper than that," Graham cryptically replied.
As for what caused the fracture, well, Graham said he "just won't say on this show, but it's a pretty deep breach." The senator isn't necessarily "asking for [Sessions] to be fired," he assured. But Trump has to "replace [Sessions] with somebody who is highly qualified" and, notably, will "allow Mueller to do his job," Graham said.
Graham's statement marks a big change from a year ago, when he said "there will be holy hell to pay" if Sessions was fired. The senator acknowledged his previous defense of Sessions on Tuesday, saying the attorney general "had to recuse himself ... because he was part of the campaign that's now being investigated." But recusal isn't what caused Sessions and Trump's relationship to fall "beyond repair," Graham said.
Update 9:25 a.m. ET: After this article was published, several journalists confirmed that Butina is indeed not pictured in a widely circulated photo of President Trump meeting with Russians in the Oval Office. The woman in question is an NSC staffer. Our headline has been updated, and our original article appears below.
Just one day after U.S. prosecutors unsealed criminal charges against Mariia Butina, an alleged Russian agent, eagle-eyed readers noticed a 2017 Oval Office visitor who looks mysteriously like the Russian national.
In a photo published last year by The New York Times, Russian officials and Russian media are gathered in the Oval Office with President Trump. Skulking in the background of the photo is a woman who some people say is Butina, who was accused Monday of conspiracy against the United States. Back when Trump was a presidential nominee, the Justice Department said, Butina tried to broker secret meetings between him and Russian President Vladimir Putin, allegedly at the behest of Russian officials.
Not everyone is convinced that the photo constitutes smoking-gun evidence that Butina managed to infiltrate high-level meetings with Trump; some skeptics, like Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall, say the image isn't definitive. Others, like pollster Matt McDermott, noted that the only reason this photo is available to the public in the first place is because it was released by Russian state media.
Until the photo is confirmed one way or the other, take a look for yourself below. Summer Meza
Okay, to jump into the Twitter sleuthing here. I'm not certain this is Buttina in this photo. Very similar looking and may well be her. But looks distinct from other pics I've seen. pic.twitter.com/w3tSx2ZKCn
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) July 17, 2018
The House's science committee was supposed to spend Wednesday learning how technology can address climate change.
But climate change expert Philip Duffy's testimony to the committee was more of a two-hour battle between Republicans and the facts of global warming. Here are three questionable moments from the hearing, per Science magazine, and you can mine the full hearing for more gems here. Kathryn Krawczyk
1. NASA says that melting ice is a main cause of sea level rise. But Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said Wednesday that the real culprit is erosion, namely from the White Cliffs of Dover as they collapse into the ocean.
2. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the committee chairman, shared slides showing that increased fossil fuel consumption doesn't correlate to rising sea levels — a view that Science noted "rejects thousands of scientific studies." Smith's data came from a single measurement station in San Francisco.
3. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said that the committee should "be open to different points of view" — including whether humans are actually the main cause of global warming, as the committee has accused federal scientists of manipulating climate data before.
Under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Department of Education has dramatically scaled back its efforts to probe potential civil rights violations in schools, a ProPublica investigation has found. Whereas the Obama administration made investigating racial disparities a central priority, under President Trump the Department of Education has moved away from that goal, shuttering at least 65 Obama-era probes without mandating any reforms.
The investigation, published by ProPublica and Mother Jones on Monday, explains how under former President Barack Obama, the Department of Education sought to identify "disparate impact," defined by ProPublica as a theory that "holds that differential treatment by race amounts to discrimination whether or not there is overt or intentional bias." With that guiding tenet, the department investigated school districts across the country in search of institutionalized discrimination.
But under DeVos, those efforts have been severely curbed, ProPublica found:
... [T]he pullback is already happening. In a June 2017 internal memo leaked to ProPublica, one of DeVos' top officials ordered investigators to limit proactive civil rights probes rather than expanding them to identify systemic patterns, as the Obama administration had often done in school discipline cases.
Since then, the Education Department has closed at least 65 school discipline investigations opened under Obama [...] In at least 50 cases, the department attributed the shutdowns to "moot" allegations or insufficient evidence or details. [ProPublica]
In one of the investigations, of a small school district in Bryan, Texas, federal investigators found at least 10 instances where black students had been punished more severely for the same infraction as their white peers, and district data showed black students were nearly four times as likely to be suspended as white students, ProPublica reported. But in 2017, the probe was effectively shuttered due to "insufficient evidence," with the school escaping any mandated reforms.
Google has eradicated pay gaps between its employees, the company announced in a blog post Thursday.
This conclusion is based on Google's annual pay equity analysis, which it has conducted every year since 2012. It calculates what an employee should be paid based on their job and skill level, while adding in factors such as tenure, location, and performance. Together, the information helps Google plan what to pay each employee the following year.
Google's calculation at the end of 2017 found that 228 employees were being underpaid. Going into 2018, the company spent about $270,000 to give those Googlers the appropriate raise.
But all that math didn't stop Google from being served a revised gender-pay lawsuit in January, The Guardian reported. The U.S. Department of Labor already found "system compensation disparities" against women in the company in April 2017.
Maybe someone who's not Google should figure this one out? Kathryn Krawczyk
President Trump insisted Thursday on Twitter that he's been trying for days to get in touch with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto after a major earthquake struck his country last week — but Peña Nieto wasn't picking up. After three days of dialing to no avail, Trump said, he was finally able to talk to Peña Nieto on Thursday to "give condolences" for the devastating 8.1-magnitude earthquake that happened seven days ago.
Trump blamed Peña Nieto's "cell phone reception" for his delayed call:
Spoke to President of Mexico to give condolences on terrible earthquake. Unable to reach for 3 days b/c of his cell phone reception at site.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017
Whether cell phone reception was really the issue, relations between the U.S. and Mexico have already suffered from the lack of communication. On Monday, Mexico withdrew its offer of aid to the victims of Hurricane Harvey because Trump never responded to it, nor had he sent his condolences to Mexico for the earthquake. Becca Stanek
The think tank New America Foundation cut ties with a scholar after he published an article critical of Google, the tech giant that just so happens to be a big donor to New America, The New York Times revealed Wednesday.
Shortly after European antitrust regulators fined Google $2.7 billion in June, scholar Barry Lynn posted a statement applauding the decision and urging regulators to "more aggressively enforce antitrust rules against Google, Amazon, and 'other dominant platform monopolists,'" the Times reported.
New America's president, Anne-Marie Slaughter, soon received an email from Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google's parent company, expressing his dissatisfaction with Lynn's statement. Lynn's article subsequently disappeared from the site, only to be later posted once again. Days later, Lynn was called into Slaughter's office, where he learned that New America was cutting ties with Open Markets, an initiative he led that reported on the dangers of tech giants' monopolization.
Slaughter told Lynn in an email that the decision, which affected him and the initiative's "nearly 10 full-time employees and unpaid fellows," was "in no way based on the content of your work." But in a prior email, Slaughter had clearly raised concerns about Lynn's work's potential effects on the think tank's relationship with Google, which has given New America more than $21 million. "We are in the process of trying to expand our relationship with Google on some absolutely key points," Slaughter wrote, telling Lynn to "just THINK about how you are imperiling funding for others."
New America Executive Vice President Tyra Mariani insisted it was "a mutual decision for Barry to spin out his Open Markets program," and that neither Google nor Schmidt influenced it. Google spokesperson Riva Sciuto maintained that Google respects the "independence, personnel decisions, and policy perspectives" of the diverse think tanks and nonprofits it supports.
But Lynn sees things differently. "Google is very aggressive in throwing its money around Washington and Brussels, and then pulling the strings," Lynn said. "People are so afraid of Google now."
Update 12:32 p.m. ET: New America issued a statement in response, deeming the claim leveled in The New York Times article to be "absolutely false."
— New America (@NewAmerica) August 30, 2017
A Public Policy Polling survey released Wednesday revealed that 45 percent of President Trump's supporters believe that white people encounter "the most discrimination in America." Meanwhile, 17 percent of Trump voters said that Native Americans face the most discrimination, 16 percent said that African Americans do, and 5 percent said that Latinos do.
The poll also found that a majority of Trump voters — 54 percent — believe that Christians face the most discrimination of any religious groups in the U.S. Twenty-two percent said that Muslims do, while 12 percent said that Jews do.
Public Policy Polling suggested that the "mindset among many Trump voters that it's whites and Christians getting trampled on in America ... makes it unlikely they would abandon Trump over his 'both sides' rhetoric," referring to the president's tack of blaming "both sides" for the violence at the Aug. 12 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. In fact, Trump doubled down on his remarks at a Phoenix rally Tuesday night, accusing the "dishonest" media of downplaying the actions of anti-fascists.
The poll surveyed 887 registered voters from Aug. 18-21. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. Becca Stanek