Here’s where things stand heading into Day 82 of the Trump administration:
Remember Carter Page, the former adviser to President Trump’s campaign who last week admitted he was in touch with a Russian spy in 2013?
He’s back in the headlines after our colleagues revealed this: The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor Page’s communications as part of an investigation into alleged ties between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.
Law enforcement officials obtained the warrant after “convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia,” our colleagues wrote.
Page has not been accused of any crimes, and has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Still, news that the FBI obtained a FISA warrant to monitor his communications is significant — it’s the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe someone from the Trump campaign was in touch with Russian agents.
SPICER APOLOGIZES FOR HITLER COMMENT
White House press secretary Sean Spicer reached a new low in his performance as Trump’s chief spokesman Tuesday.
While criticizing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons at his daily briefing, Spicer when he said that even Adolf Hitler did not sink to that level during World War II. He said this in spite of the fact that Hitler used gas chambers to murder millions of Jews between 1941 and 1945.
It was bad enough that Spicer said this, and said it during the Passover, a significant holiday for Jews. But then he made it worse.
When given the chance to clarify, Spicer said Hitler took Jews “into the Holocaust center” but that Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people in the same way that Assad is doing.”
As you might imagine, that clarification didn’t clarify much. So Spicer later put out a statement explaining what he meant.
“In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust,” Spicer stated. “I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.”
Soon, lawmakers began criticizing Spicer. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) even called for his dismissal.
Later, Spicer appeared on CNN to apologize.
“I was obviously trying to make a point about the heinous acts that Assad had made against his own people last week, using chemical weapons and gas,” he said. “Frankly I mistakenly made an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the Holocaust, for which there is no comparison. And for that I apologize. It was a mistake to do that.”
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION PUSHES RUSSIA ON SYRIA
The Trump administration is pushing back on Russia’s explanation for last week’s chemical attack in Syria, adding to the strain between Washington and Moscow as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson makes his first visit to the Russian capital.
Russia, in tandem with Assad’s government, has argued that routine bombing accidentally struck a cache of chemical weapons held by the Syrian opposition.
The U.S. government isn’t letting this theory slide. On Tuesday, officials cited a range of evidence showing that a Russian-made, Syrian-piloted aircraft dropped at least one munition carrying sarin gas on the town where the chemical attack took place.
PROVOCATIONS POSSIBLE FROM NORTH KOREA
Though the Syrian conflict has received most of the attention this week, tensions continue to simmer between the United States and North Korea, which warned Tuesday that it will “hit the U.S. first” with nuclear weapons.
Analysts say the possibility of an actual clash between the two states is slim. But, as our colleague wrote, “there’s always the chance that one side or the other could miscalculate.”
It is possible North Korea could unleash some kind of provocation — perhaps a nuclear test or missile launch — this week or weekend as the country celebrates the 105th anniversary of the birthday of founding president Kim Il Sung, experts said.
SESSIONS PUSHES CRACKDOWN ON ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION
Attorney General Jeff Sessions urged federal prosecutors Tuesday to focus their energy on immigration cases and consider whether to bring felony charges against illegal immigrants.
The directives, contained in a three-page memo, are part of a wider cultural change Sessions is orchestrating at the Justice Department. The new attorney general is planning to prosecute more drug and gun cases and pursue mandatory minimum sentences as part of a broad, tough-on-crime approach, our colleagues reported.
Sessions had previously threatened to strip federal funding from cities that do not cooperate with immigration authorities. Under his leadership, DOJ is preparing to add 125 more immigration judges along the border over the next two years to handle deportation proceedings.
“This is a new era,” he said. “This is the Trump era.”
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