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March 13, 2018

President Trump ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday, telling reporters he made the decision "by myself." The State Department released a statement saying Tillerson was "unaware of the reason" for his firing but that he "still believes strongly that public service is a noble calling."

So noble, in fact, that Trump reportedly did not deign to fire Tillerson directly, but rather allowed him to find out of his dismissal via presidential tweet:

Tillerson was not formally notified he'd been fired until after Trump's tweet, which clued him in, CNN's Elise Labott reports. Trump essentially admitted that he allowed Tillerson to read of his own firing on Twitter, telling reporters that he "didn't really discuss it much" with the ousted secretary before writing the missive, Axios reports. Kimberly Alters

3:06 a.m.

On Thursday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said a 7-year-old girl from Guatemala had died of dehydration and shock more than eight hours after the Border Patrol took her into custody, along with her father and 161 other migrants who turned themselves in after crossing into New Mexico from Mexico on Dec. 6. The following morning, the unidentified girl began having seizures, The Washington Post reports, and the emergency responders who arrived shortly measured her temperature at 105.7 degrees. She "reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days," CBP said, and she died at a hospital in El Paso "less than 24 hours after being transported."

"Food and water are typically provided to migrants in Border Patrol custody, and it wasn't immediately clear Thursday if the girl received provisions and a medical exam before the onset of seizures," the Post reports. The initial diagnosis for cause of death was septic shock, fever, and dehydration, and an autopsy is being performed. "Our sincerest condolences go out to the family of the child," CBP spokesman Andrew Meehan said in a statement.

Even as the number of border crossings has dropped this year, the numbers of families traveling to the U.S. from Central America has risen. So have the number of migrant deaths, said Cynthia Pompa at the ACLU Border Rights Center. “This tragedy represents the worst possible outcome when people, including children, are held in inhumane conditions. Lack of accountability, and a culture of cruelty within CBP have exacerbated policies that lead to migrant deaths." Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said he will ask the Homeland Security Department's inspector general to investigate the death, noting that a previous IG report found that as President Trump limits asylum seekers at ports of entry, migrant families are forced to make "dangerous treks across the desert in search of safety, and a better life." Peter Weber

2:18 a.m.

"It really feels that we're at a turning point in the Trump presidency — not the point where he's turning himself in, but still," Stephen Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show. According to a guilty plea from President Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen, Trump is essentially "an unindicted co-conspirator" in felony campaign finance violations, Colbert said. And "when he saw he was in trouble with the Justice Department, Trump immediately appealed to a higher authority, Fox News." Trump said he doesn't think he ever paid the National Enquirer to "catch and kill" a story for him and insisted the feds cut a deal with Cohen to "embarrass" him. Colbert laughed: "Well, if they're giving out deals to people who embarrass the president, you might have a chance."

"Trump also keeps insisting that the payments were totally legal and do not violate campaign finance law, despite the fact that prosecutors in his own Justice Department and independent legal experts say they did," Seth Meyers said on Late Night. When pressed by Fox News, Trump said hiring lying criminals like Cohen is something that "just happens," and Meyers disagreed: "It only happens to you. No one else accidentally hires a criminal liar who pays hush money to cover up an affair!"

"Paying people hush money is not a crime," Trevor Noah noted on The Daily Show, "but if it turns out that a presidential candidate secretly used campaign funds to hide damaging information from voters, that is a felony. And today, it's being reported that Donald Trump was actually in the room when the whole plan was hatched." Most people agree that being "implicated in a criminal conspiracy" is a really bad look for Trump, but many top Republicans are waving it away, Noah said, shaking his head. "I understand the Republicans' desire to protect their party's president, I get that. But they're pivoting so far just to defend him that they're moving away from what they said the Republican Party stands for in the first place: law and order." No one claimed that more than Trump. Noah squared the circle, in Trump voice: "That's right, folks, I am the law-and-order candidate — as in, I will break the law in order to become president." Watch below. Peter Weber

12:47 a.m.

In Wednesday's non-prosecution deal with National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc., federal prosecutors said AMI admitted that in an August 2015 Trump Tower meeting with President Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen and "at least one other member of the [Trump] campaign," CEO David Pecker had agreed to "help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate's relationships with women." AMI subsequently made a $150,000 payment "in concert with the campaign" to one purported mistress, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, prosecutors said, and the "principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman's story so as to prevent it from influencing the election."

In that August 2015 meeting, "the 'other member' was Trump," NBC News reports, citing "a person familiar with the matter." Trump's active participation in the meeting — and direct involvement in or knowledge of the hush payment — was reported by The Wall Street Journal in early November. Cohen has since pleaded guilty to felony campaign finance violations, purportedly committed at the direction of Trump, in connection with a separate hush payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels.

Trump and his lawyers have continuously shifted their story about what happened and what Trump knew about the hush payments, with the latest iteration being Trump's insistence Thursday that he "never directed Michael Cohen to break the law," and if any laws were broken, that's on Cohen. "But if Trump is now in the room, as early as August of 2015 and in combination with the recording where Trump clearly knows what Cohen is talking about with regarding to David Pecker," former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman told NBC News, "you now squarely place Trump in the middle of a conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud."

At CNN, The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow discussed the Enquirer's "catch and kill" practices and reminded Anderson Cooper that AMI paid to bury at least one other negative story about Trump during the campaign. Peter Weber

December 13, 2018

It's so obvious, it's amazing no one thought of it sooner.

President Trump is considering his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner to be his next chief of staff, HuffPost reports. That would put Kushner on the list of five possible candidates Trump said he is looking at after current Chief Of Staff John Kelly announced his departure Saturday.

Kelly spent months possibly on the outs with Trump, and Vice President Mike Pence's Chief of Staff Nick Ayers was reportedly set to take his place. But Ayers turned down the job Sunday, leaving the field wide open for a potential replacement. Longtime loyalist Newt Gingrich has been floated as a frontrunner, and now, Kushner is reportedly joining him as a contender.

Kushner has been a steady aide to Trump's tumultuous agenda, steering the president in favor of prison reform and an alliance with Saudi Arabia. His friendship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman seemingly even stopped Trump from condemning him for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Politico also reported Wednesday that Kushner and his wife Ivanka Trump had a heavy hand in choosing Trump's next right-hand man. So it's no wonder that, as sources tell HuffPost, Kushner met with Trump about the job and is touting his policy accomplishments in an effort to secure it.

The White House has denied Kushner is being considered for the job, per The Washington Post's Josh Dawsey, who essentially points out that this doesn't mean Kushner is out of the running. Kathryn Krawczyk

December 13, 2018

The Senate voted Thursday, 56-41, to withdraw American support for Saudi Arabia's coalition in Yemen's war. Just minutes later, they unanimously voted to condemn Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder, reports The Washington Post.

Both moves are major rejections of President Trump, seeing as he never wavered in his support of the kingdom despite Khashoggi's murder and apparent human rights violations against Yemeni civilians. The vote to revoke military support also called into question Trump's war powers, but will likely expire before Trump gets a chance to sign or veto it, The New York Times says, making its passage largely symbolic.

Khashoggi's October murder in Turkey's Saudi consulate set a wave of lawmakers against the president, even those who usually back Trump's policies. While Trump repeatedly refused to accept the CIA's reported findings that bin Salman directed the killing, allies such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) vehemently countered him. As it turns out, every Republican and Democrat voted against the president Thursday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said.

The other Senate move on Thursday comes days after several humanitarian groups implored the federal government to withdraw its military support in the Yemeni civil war. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were backing efforts to fight Houthi rebels in the country, putting millions at risk of famine along the way. The House just squashed a similar resolution earlier this week to end Saudi support, the Times notes. Still, this shows there's a powerful coalition of Saudi skeptics in the Senate. Kathryn Krawczyk

December 13, 2018

We haven't reached the peak of "peak TV" just yet — and it's all because of streaming.

A report from FX found that for the first time, more scripted shows were released by streaming services this year than aired on basic cable or broadcast television, per Variety. There were a total of 495 scripted originals produced in 2018, and 160 of those debuted on streaming services. For comparison, 146 shows aired on broadcast networks like NBC and CBS, and 144 aired on basic cable channels like MTV in 2018. This all means that 32 percent of all scripted TV shows were released on streaming this year, while 30 percent aired on broadcast, 29 percent aired on basic cable, and nine percent aired on paid cable.

While streaming services saw an increase in output compared to last year, the scripted production of broadcast and basic cable both experienced a decline. Last year, basic cable made up the biggest percentage of the market, Variety reported at the time. Streaming services last year only produced 117 shows compared to 160 this year. We've certainly come a long way since 2011, when there were only six streaming shows total, The Daily Beast's Kevin Fallon points out.

Overall, there were a total of 487 scripted series produced in 2017, and in 2016, there were 455 of them.

FX CEO John Landgraf in 2015 famously coined the term "peak TV," referring to an enormous and overwhelming increase in the number of scripted shows being produced in a year. But the number of originals has only continued to grow since then, as demonstrated by this annual study that his network releases every year. This study shows that the growth rate in general is slowing down a bit, but as Langraf himself said in August, the peak is still "a ways away.” Brendan Morrow

December 13, 2018

Special Counsel Robert Mueller might be taking the Russia investigation south.

After more than a year of probing President Trump's connections to Moscow, the special counsel's office has moved into "Middle Eastern countries' attempts to influence American politics," sources tell The Daily Beast. Court filings detailing the first round of those findings are reportedly set for release early next year.

So far, Mueller's team has turned out charges against 33 different people — 26 of whom are Russian — and three Russia-based companies, per Vox. But as part of the team investigated the Trump campaign's involvement with Russia, another has reportedly been looking into any involvement with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. These three countries "pushed cash to Washington politicos in an attempt to sway policy under President Trump's administration," The Daily Beast writes. The probe has reportedly found these countries sought to use social media to get Trump elected — something that's reminiscent of Russia's supposed actions.

After months of investigation, Mueller's Middle East team is just about ready to release its findings and even levy charges, sources tell The Daily Beast. These reported findings likely stem from former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's cooperation with Mueller, seeing as he apparently spoke with Middle Eastern officials along with Russians.

Mueller only had authority from the Justice Department to investigate the Trump campaign's Russia ties. So Middle Eastern connections would either have to overlap with Russia, or Mueller would've needed additional authority from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to probe further, an attorney says. Read more about what Mueller could drop next at The Daily Beast. Kathryn Krawczyk

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