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May 16, 2018

On Sunday, lawyer Michael Avenatti got the ball rolling on a strange and convoluted story involving Qatari diplomats, President Trump, Michael Cohen, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Ice Cube, Stephen Bannon, and the Trump-Russia collusion dossier compiled by ex-spy Christopher Steele. Avenatti, who represents porn star Stormy Daniels, released photos showing Ahmed al-Rumaihi, a top official at Qatar's state investment fund, getting in a Trump Tower elevator on Dec. 12, 2016, with Cohen and Qatar's foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani.

Al-Rumaihi's company, Sport Trinity, confirmed to CNN that he was at the Trump Tower meetings, and Qatar's press attaché told Britain's Daily Mail on Tuesday that al Thani was there, too, to meet with Trump transition officials. Also known: The Qatari wealth fund division al-Rumaihi ran from May 2016 to March 2017 bought a 19.5 percent stake in Russian oil giant Rosneft five days before the December 2016 meeting.

Then things get murky. An unidentified Kuwaiti official told the Daily Mail that in the last week, al-Rumaihi told him that in a December 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Flynn and Cohen, "Cohen told him to send millions to various members of the Trump family." Al-Rumaihi apparently refused, but Jeff Kwatinetz, a former business partner of al-Rumaihi's in a basketball league co-owned with Ice Cube, said in a sworn deposition last week that al-Rumaihi asked him to offer a bribe from Qatar to Bannon, a friend, in January, and when Kwatinetz said no, al-Rumaihi laughed and asked, "Do you think Flynn turned down our money?" (Al-Rumaihi denies saying this.)

Also publicly unsubstantiated is a claim in the Steele dossier that in summer 2016, a Rosneft official offered the Trump campaign, via adviser Carter Page, a stake in Rosneft if future President Trump scrapped Russia sanctions, as Slate explains. Helpfully, MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell tried to tie all these strands together with Slate's Jeremy Stahl on Tuesday night, while The Atlantic's David Frum issued a note of caution. Watch below. Peter Weber

8:40 a.m.

The man who fatally shot five people and wounded six more in Aurora, Illinois, on Friday was armed with a handgun he should not have been able to purchase, local authorities have revealed.

The shooter, identified as Gary Martin, had been arrested in Aurora six times for "traffic and domestic battery-related issues," said Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman, and he was convicted of aggravated assault in Mississippi in 1995. That felony conviction should have been detected by the background check Martin underwent to purchase his gun. It was not.

Though a second background check for Martin's concealed carry permit application did alert to his record, he already had the weapon in his possession by that point.

Martin was killed Friday in an exchange of gunfire with police. He was going to be fired from his workplace, the manufacturing plant where he made his attack, though Zimon said Saturday police are not sure whether he knew he would be let go when he brought his handgun to his job Friday morning. "[W]e can surmise that he was speculative about what was going to happen as evidenced by him arming himself with a firearm," she said.

The identities of the five people Martin killed have been released; all were fellow workers at the plant. Of the six police officers wounded, three remain hospitalized, but all are in stable condition. Bonnie Kristian

8:40 a.m.

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Saturday he has yet to choose which military projects may have funding reallocated to pay for border wall construction following President Trump's national emergency declaration.

The Trump administration reportedly identified $3.6 billion from the military construction budget and $2.5 billion from a Defense Department drug interdiction fund, but Shanahan has ultimate approval on how much can be taken from which programs. "Very deliberately, we have not made any decisions," Shanahan said.

One military official told Reuters Shanahan is likely to approve the targeted amount from the construction budget. But Shanahan said that one area that will not be touched is military housing, which has come under scrutiny lately for poor standards.

The Pentagon is also still reviewing whether the wall is necessary to support the use of armed forces. Tim O'Donnell

8:08 a.m.

President Trump on Twitter late Saturday asked the United States' European allies to collect and contain hundreds of Islamic State fighters the United States has captured in Syria:

The fighters in question are Europeans who traveled to the Mideast to back the Islamic State. In some cases, "fighter" may not be a fair characterization; for example, a London teenager named Shamima Begum, now 19, recently gave birth after traveling to Syria in 2015 to marry an ISIS militant. She may never have personally acted as a combatant and now seeks to return to the United Kingdom.

While France will repatriate and, in some cases, prosecute French nationals among these captured hundreds of ISIS affiliates, other nations, most notably the United Kingdom, have been less willing to do so with ISIS recruits from their countries. The situation is coming to a head as the fight against ISIS in Syria winds down; U.S.-backed Syrian forces said Saturday the terrorist group today controls just 700 square meters of Syrian territory. Bonnie Kristian

7:53 a.m.

Saturday Night Live's President Trump (Alec Baldwin) held a press conference on the White House lawn to announce his national emergency declaration, revealing the decision was just part of a grand plan to escape the confines of the presidency.

"We need wall," Baldwin's Trump told the media. "You can all see why I gotta fake this national emergency, right? I have to because I want to."

He then laid out exactly what would happen after he signed the emergency papers. First, he'll immediately be sued and the case will go to the Supreme Court, which will prompt him to call his "buddy," Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and tell him "it's time to repay the Donny." But Kavanaugh would feign ignorance. Next, Trump will plead insanity after Special Counsel Robert Mueller releases his findings before spending "a few months in the puzzle factory" for his crimes. "And my personal hell of playing president will finally be over."

Trump then answered — or refused to answer — a few "softball questions" on tariffs and undocumented immigrants. Watch the full sketch, which the real President Trump made clear on Twitter Sunday morning he did not enjoy, below. Tim O'Donnell

February 16, 2019

Vice President Mike Pence and German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced differing opinions on how to approach the Iran nuclear deal when they both spoke at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

Pence criticized European leaders for remaining in the deal, which the U.S. backed out of last year after leading negotiations in 2015 under the Obama administration. "We have the regime in Iran that's breathing out murderous threats, with the same vile anti-Semitic hatred that animated the Nazis in Europe," Pence said, arguing "the Iranian regime openly advocates another Holocaust and it seeks the means to achieve it."

Merkel, on the other hand, defended the agreement, describing it as an "anchor" that should be used to pressure Iran in other areas. The chancellor expressed concern over Europe's split with the U.S. on the matter, which she said "depresses" her.

Pence also criticized the European response to Venezuela and urged his fellow leaders to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as president.

Read more about the implications of the Trump administration's stance on the Iran deal here at The Week. Tim O'Donnell

February 16, 2019

Leading House Democrats told Politico for a report published Saturday they are consulting with House General Counsel Douglas Letter on how to compel President Trump or his administration to reveal the content of his one-on-one meetings with Russia President Vladimir Putin.

"I had a meeting with the general counsel to discuss this and determine the best way to find out what took place in those private meetings — whether it's by seeking the interpreter's testimony, the interpreter's notes, or other means," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who serves as House Intelligence Committee chair.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, is working with Schiff. "I'm not saying that I'm in favor of interpreters turning over all their notes, but I do think that it shouldn't be up to the president to hide the notes," Engel told Politico.

Of particular interest is Trump's private conference with Putin in Helsinki last summer, where the two presidents met alone with their respective interpreters for 90 minutes. At the press conference following the talks, Trump said he didn't "know any reason why it would be" Russia which sought to meddle in the 2016 election, contradicting the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies.

Last month, The Washington Post reported Trump has "gone to extraordinary lengths" to hide details of his conversations with Putin, including from his own administration. In one case, Trump reportedly took his interpreter's notes from a call with Putin and told the interpreter not to discuss the talk with other officials. Bonnie Kristian

February 16, 2019

President Trump on Friday declared a national emergency to redirect about $6.7 billion from programs in the Departments of Treasury and Defense to border wall construction. Less than 24 hours later, the declaration already faces its first legal challenge.

A lawsuit has been brought by Public Citizen, a progressive advocacy group, on behalf of Texan landowners whose property would be used for the wall. The suit argues Trump "exceeded his constitutional authority and authority under the National Emergencies Act" and asks that he be banned from "using the declaration and funds appropriated for other purposes to build a border wall."

The Justice Department reportedly warned the president in advance of his Friday announcement that the declaration would be held up in court. Trump himself acknowledged as much, musing in a sing-song voice that after his declaration, the White House "will then be sued, and they will sue us in the 9th Circuit [Court] ... and then we'll end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully we'll get a fair shake, and we'll win at the Supreme Court, just like the ban [on travel from majority-Muslim nations]."

Whether Trump's forecast is correct remains to be seen. Conservative radio pundit Hugh Hewitt on Friday predicted the emergency declaration would move through the courts fairly quickly, and that Trump would win on appeal, perhaps before reaching the Supreme Court.

Few echoed that expectation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) promised Congress would use "every remedy available," including the courts, to fight Trump's action, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) likewise pledged a court challenge to this presidential "vanity project."

George Conway, a conservative lawyer and the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, tweeted that Trump knows he will lose in court and that the emergency declaration is unconstitutional. And Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) warned the declaration will "likely get tied up in litigation, and most concerning is that it would create a new precedent." Bonnie Kristian

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