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June 13, 2018

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, who has found himself in an ethical quagmire over rampant spending concerns, allegedly assigned a specific EPA aide as a "headhunter for his spouse," The Washington Post reports. The Judicial Crisis Network ultimately hired Marlyn Pruitt, a former school nurse, as a temporary "independent contractor" after having received her resume from the executive vice president of the Federalist Society, Leonard Leo — who is also a Pruitt donor and a friend of the family. Pruitt had also pressured another donor, Doug Deason, to find employment for his wife after Deason said he could not hire her due to the obvious conflict of interest.

Pruitt had allegedly told EPA staff that he needed more money to hold onto his two houses in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and in Washington, D.C.; Marlyn Pruitt has had no income over $5,000 in recent years. The executive branch ethics counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington told the Post that Pruitt's use of an aide to "become the headhunter for his spouse" is particularly concerning because Marlyn's job would ultimately "affect his financial interests." Public officials are not allowed to use their posts for private gain.

Samantha Dravis, who served as the EPA's Office of Policy associate administrator, was assigned the task of finding work for Marlyn. While Dravis didn't comment to the Post — she has since left the EPA — one friend said Pruitt "pressured her" to find work for his wife.

Pruitt is already the subject of a dozen different federal investigations. Read more about the job hunt for his wife at The Washington Post and here at The Week. Jeva Lange

1:07 a.m.

"I tell you, I'm beginning to think Donald Trump destroys everyone he touches," Stephen Colbert mused on Tuesday's Late Show. "He is like the King Midas of crap," and "the latest Trump aide to hit the fan" is former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn was in court Tuesday to be sentenced for lying to the FBI, and President Trump "was on the sidelines, cheering him on," Colbert said, reading the relevant tweet, which he suggested amounted to "witness tampering in real time."

Flynn's lawyers argued last week that the FBI tricked him into lying by not telling him lying to the FBI is a crime, and the judge at the sentencing hearing, Emmet Sullivan, asked why he pleaded guilty, then. "Over and over, the judge asks Flynn, Do you really want to do this?" Colbert paraphrased. "He's like a tattoo artist at 2 a.m. with a drunk customer who keeps saying, 'No, I'm sure I want my whole back covered with a picture of Tweety Bird puking on Calvin.'" Judge Sullivan was less understanding when it came to Flynn's lobbying work for Turkey, and he told him so in no uncertain terms.

"Probably not a great sign when you're not charged with treason but the judge really wants to know why not," Colbert reasoned. After hinting at treasonous actions, Sullivan asked Flynn if he wanted to postpone his sentencing so he could try to lessen his punishment by cooperating more with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. "That's a tough call — that's like choosing between apples and decades in prison," Colbert explained. (Flynn chose the apples.) He ended with Trump's baffling personal war on Christmas, a holiday he reportedly doesn't like because it's not about him: "How self-obsessed can you get? I'd say he's Scrooge, but Trump would probably enjoy a visit from those ghosts." Watch below. Peter Weber

12:36 a.m.

More than 150 companies, including major tech organizations and online retailers, made arrangements with Facebook to have special access to users' personal data, even as the social media platform assured people that they had control over their own data, The New York Times reports.

The Times reviewed more than 270 pages of documents Facebook generated in 2017 to track the partnerships, and spoke with more than 50 former employees of the company and its corporate partners. Under the arrangement, partners were essentially exempt from the usual privacy rules, the Times reports. For example, Netflix and Spotify were granted permission to read users' private messages; Amazon was able to obtain the contact information of users through their friends; and Bing, the Microsoft search engine, was allowed to "see the names of virtually all Facebook users' friends without consent," the Times says.

The records show the that deals, all of them active in 2017, involved the data of hundreds of millions of users every month. The first deals were made in 2010. Steve Satterfield, Facebook's director of privacy and public policy, told the Times these partnerships did not violate the privacy of users or run afoul of the Federal Trade Commission's 2011 consent agreement that prohibited Facebook from sharing user data without permission. Read more about the arrangements — and why data privacy experts are skeptical of Facebook's claim that these partnerships were exempt from regulatory requirements — at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

12:14 a.m.

Former first lady Michelle Obama had a little fun with Jimmy Fallon for Tuesday's Tonight Show, and they threw in a little light exercise to boot. The elevator surprise idea is pretty simple — people believing they are taking a normal tour of 30 Rockefeller Center stop at a floor, only to get a glimpse of Fallon and then Obama, and then the doors close. Maybe the conversations inside the elevator got awkward and political on the ride down — this is still 2018, after all — but from what we can see, everyone seemed to have fun, there is legitimate elevator music, and you can watch below. Peter Weber

December 18, 2018

As 2018 winds to a close, "it feels like the whole country is still nursing a hangover from the 2016 presidential election — Trump is still obsessed with Hillary, Mueller is still investigating Trump, and Democrats are about to launch a slew of new investigations into his campaign," Trevor Noah said on Tuesday's Daily Show. "But now, over two years later, we're still about how deep the Russian rabbit hole goes," including the Kremlin's trolls targeting of one particular group. "It turns out, the Russians spent a lot of effort specifically trying to convince black Americans not to vote," Noah said — or to vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, same difference.

"Real black American" Dulcé Sloan came out to give her mixed reaction to the news. "Trevor, I feel disgusted, I feel manipulated, and I feel special," she said. "Russia could have gone after anyone — Latinos, Asians, millennials — but they said, We're going after the ones who count: black people. Can you believe that? I mean, some white people actually do think black lives matter." She had some suggestions for Washington. Watch below. Peter Weber

December 18, 2018

You say border wall, President Trump says "artistically designed steel slats."

On Twitter Tuesday night, Trump declared that he's figured out the real problem Democrats have with funding a wall along the southern border. "The Democrats, are saying loud and clear that they do not want to build a Concrete Wall — but we are not building a Concrete Wall, we are building artistically designed steel slats, so that you can easily see through it .... it will be beautiful and, at the same time, give our Country the security that our citizens deserve. It will go up fast and save us BILLIONS of dollars a month once completed!"

"Build the artistically designed steel slats!" sure doesn't have the same ring to it as "Build the wall!" Catherine Garcia

December 18, 2018

In a bipartisan vote, the Senate on Tuesday passed the First Step Act, the biggest overhaul of the federal criminal justice system in decades.

The bill passed with a vote of 87-12, and was backed by conservative and liberal groups. Lawmakers spent more than a year negotiating the bill, which creates more rehabilitation programs, eases mandatory minimum sentencing, reduces the three-strike penalty from life in prison to 25 years, and lets some federal inmates earn time credits by taking part in special programs.

Now, the bill moves to the House, where it also has bipartisan support. After the Senate passed the measure, President Trump tweeted that he looks "forward to signing this into law!" Catherine Garcia

December 18, 2018

Over the course of a decade, the late George H.W. Bush sponsored a boy living in the Philippines who had no idea that the money, letters, and gifts coming to him from the United States were being sent by a former president.

Bush learned about Compassion International, a nonprofit that connects sponsors with children from poor communities, in 2001, the organization's former president, Wess Stafford, told CNN on Tuesday. Bush's security team did some digging, and after vetting Compassion International, they agreed that he could sponsor 7-year-old Timothy. There were some rules, though; he had to use a pseudonym, to protect Timothy from someone who might target him due to his link to Bush.

For 10 years, Bush sent letters — signed "George Walker" — and funds that paid for Timothy's education, activities, and food. Stafford screened Bush's letters, describing them to CNN as being "the most sweet, spirited letters I have read from any sponsor, but he kept giving hints as to who he could be. He was really pushing the envelope." Bush sent photos of his dog, Sadie, and told Timothy that he was invited to the White House for Christmas. Timothy drew pictures for Bush, who in turn sent him sketch pads, colored pencils, and paint, even though gifts were not allowed.

Timothy didn't find out who his sponsor was until he turned 17 and graduated. He was stunned, Stafford said, never having a clue that his pen pal and benefactor was once the president of the United States of America. Catherine Garcia

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