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March 17, 2019

More than a year before Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved a secret — and brutal — plan to crush dissent, using surveillance, abduction, and torture, U.S. officials who read classified intelligence reports on the matter told The New York Times.

Saudi citizens were targeted around the world, with a special team — called the Saudi Rapid Intervention Group by U.S. officials — involved in at least 12 operations beginning in 2017, the Times reports. This is the same team that killed Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

After being captured and brought back to the kingdom, the Saudi citizens were housed in palaces belonging to the crown prince and his father, King Salman, the Times reports, with many tortured during interrogations. Loujain al-Hathloul was detained for trying to drive her car into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates, and her sister, Alia, said she was locked inside a tiny room with covered windows. During interrogations, al-Hathloul and others were routinely beat, shocked, waterboarded, and told they would be raped and murdered, the intelligence reports state. Due to the psychological torture, she attempted to take her own life.

A spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Washington told the Times the government "takes any allegations of ill treatment of defendants awaiting trial or prisoners serving their sentences very seriously." Read more about the secret campaign at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

10:34 p.m.

Joe Arpaio marked the anniversary of President Trump pardoning him by announcing he is once again running for sheriff in Maricopa County, Arizona.

"Watch out world!" the 87-year-old said in a statement. "We are back!" Arpaio served six terms as sheriff, and his jails were known for their harsh conditions, with immigrants housed in tents outside during extreme heat; inmates fed twice a day with food served at other institutions as a form of punishment; and prisoners forced to wear pink underwear. As a result, several civil rights lawsuits were filed against Arpaio, NBC News reports, and a federal judge ruled twice that his jails violated the constitutional rights of inmates because of poor medical care.

Arpaio was handily defeated in November 2016, and convicted in July 2017 of contempt of court after he disregarded a federal judge's order to stop arresting immigrants based on suspicion that they were undocumented. One of Trump's earliest supporters, he was pardoned by the president in August 2017. In his statement, Arpaio said he's been urged by "thousands" to run again, and "the last four years have proven to be a time of lost opportunities to continue the kind of tough policing this country needs." Catherine Garcia

9:42 p.m.

There's about to be more Mickey Mouse, Frozen, and Marvel inside Target stores across the United States.

Disney and Target announced on Sunday they are partnering to open permanent Disney stores inside select Target locations, with 25 launching on Oct. 4. By October 2020, the plan is to open 40 more stores within the store. The designated Disney areas will cover about 750 square feet adjacent to the children's clothing and toy section, with at least 450 items, including apparel, games, and some collectible merchandise.

The first Disney stores will open in several major cities, including Philadelphia, Chicago, and Denver. Catherine Garcia

9:07 p.m.

President Trump, on more than one occasion, asked Homeland Security and national security officials to consider the following: What if the United States dropped a nuclear bomb inside the eye of a hurricane, disrupting it before it could reach land?

Several people who heard Trump's suggestions, and others who read about it in a National Security Council memo, told Axios on Sunday that Trump wanted officials to start exploring his hypothesis. During one meeting at the White House, Trump's idea stunned his briefer, who was "knocked back on his heels," an attendee told Axios. "You could hear a gnat fart in that meeting. People were astonished. After the meeting ended, we thought, 'What the f—k? What do we do with this?'"

Trump discussed the idea early in his presidency — and at one point also suggested using regular bombs as opposed to nuclear — and hasn't said anything since John Bolton became his national security adviser, Axios reports. This idea has actually been bandied about before, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it won't work because the explosives would need to have an exorbitant amount of energy to modify the hurricanes, plus radioactive fallout would spread with the trade winds, harming people and the environment.

While Trump's idea caught several people off guard, a senior administration official told Axios they didn't think it was strange at all that the president of the United States thought it would be wise to drop a nuclear bomb into the eye of a hurricane. "His goal — to keep a catastrophic hurricane from hitting the mainland — is not bad," the person said. "His objective is not bad." Catherine Garcia

1:03 p.m.

The Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France, received a surprise visitor on Sunday.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in the French resort town for an unannounced visit to the gathering of world leaders. A senior French official said that, upon arrival, Zarif went straight into a meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who invited his Iranian counterpart to attend the summit where the leaders of other invited countries are discussing how to handle Iran's nuclear ambitions.

American officials in Biarritz will reportedly not meet with Zarif. One French official said that France operates on its own terms when asked about Washington's knowledge of Zarif's attendance prior to his arrival.

Tensions, of course, are running high between Tehran and Washington, as they have been ever since the Trump administration last year pulled out of the 2015 nuclear pact orchestrated by the Obama administration. French President Emmanuel Macron has since taken the lead in negotiations to preserve the pact for its remaining signatories, including France, Germany, and the U.K., all countries that are in attendance at the G-7 summit.

The White House was reportedly caught a bit off guard by Zarif's sudden appearance. Earlier on Sunday, before Zarif showed up, Trump reportedly said while he was content with Paris reaching out to Tehran, he would continue to approach the situation with Iran independently and as he saw fit. Tim O'Donnell

12:28 p.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) doesn't have a fundamental issue with tariffs — in fact, he's made it clear that he led the fight against "permanent, normal" trade relations with China, as well as the North American Free Trade Agreement. But the Democratic presidential candidate doesn't think President Trump is utilizing tariffs in the correct manner.

In an appearance on Sunday's edition of CNN's State of the Union, Sanders told host Brianna Keilar that tariffs are one tool that can be used to fight unfair trade, but added that Trump is handling the entire trade war irrationally. "You do not make trade policy by announcing today that you're going to raise tariffs 'x percent' and the next day by 'y percent'," he said.

In particular, Sanders took issue with Trump attacking Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell as an enemy of the American people and denouncing Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Sanders said he would use tariffs himself, but in a "rational way within the context of a broad, sensible trade policy." He did not, however, elaborate much more on what such a policy would look like. Tim O'Donnell

11:48 a.m.

The White House would like to clarify something.

Earlier on Sunday, while at the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France, President Trump said he had second thoughts about how Washington's trade war with China has played out. Trump's comments were originally tempered by the fact that he said he has "second thoughts about everything" and did not signal that he was considering reversing any tariffs on Chinese imports to the U.S. But they still created speculation that the president might regret escalating the trade war, which has stoked fears of a global recession, especially since he also toned down rhetoric about ordering U.S. businesses to cut off dealings with China.

His administration, however, was quick to suppress any doubt that Trump was open to a softer approach in trade negotiations with Beijing — in fact the White House says the opposite is actually true. "His answer has been greatly misinterpreted," White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said, referring to the question about Trump having second thoughts. "President Trump responded in the affirmative because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher."

So, really, Trump meant he hadn't escalated the trade war enough.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow backed up Grisham's correction. Read more at NBC News. Tim O'Donnell

11:29 a.m.

President Trump apparently better invest in a facemask soon because former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) is officially challenging him in the Republican primary.

Walsh, who recently said somebody needs to punch Trump "in the face every single day," unveiled his campaign on Sunday during an appearance on ABC's This Week.

"We've got a guy in the White House who is unfit, completely unfit to be president, and it stuns me that nobody stepped up, nobody in the Republican Party stepped up," he told host George Stephanopoulos. "Because I'll tell you what, George, everybody believes in the Republican Party, everybody believes that he's unfit."

Walsh was also self-critical during the interview, acknowledging that he regrets helping "create" Trump. "The personal, ugly politics. I regret that," Walsh said. "And I'm sorry for that. And now we've got a guy in the White House, that's all he does." Walsh is reportedly going to attack Trump from the right on moral grounds.

He also announced the launch of his campaign on Twitter, joining former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld as Trump's GOP challengers. Tim O'Donnell

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