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May 22 2017 10:22 PM

The First Eyewitness Accounts of the Manchester Explosions Are Heartbreaking

The first eyewitness accounts of the explosions at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England are beginning to arrive, and they’re heartbreaking. Twitter user @JoeAaronGregory captured what appears to be the explosion in a dashcam video from outside the arena he posted on Twitter:

Meanwhile, Twitter user @hannawwh captured the chaotic scene inside Manchester Arena in the immediate aftermath of the explosions:

NBC News posted video of concertgoers climbing over barriers to reach the arena’s exits:

May 22 2017 7:32 PM

At Least 19 Dead in Suspected Suicide Attack at Ariana Grande Concert in Manchester, England

Update, 8:55 p.m.: The signs coming out of Manchester increasingly indicate the deadly explosion was an act of terrorism. The souce of the blast is still yet to be confirmed, but British authorities say they are proceeding as if the incident was an act of terror. There are conflicting reports on the number of explosions that occurred, with some outlets now reporting there may have been multiple explosions.

Update, 8:40 p.m.: The Manchester Arena has confirmed that the explosion took place outside of the arena, as people were exiting.

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Update, 8:15 p.m.: Manchester police confirm 19 dead and 50 injured.

Update, 7:38 p.m.: NBC News reports the death toll has risen to at least 20 people.

At least 20 people were killed and possibly 'hundreds" of others were injures after one or more loud bangs were heard Monday night at an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena in England, multiple law enforcement told NBC News.

Original Post: A deadly explosion at an Ariana Grande concert Monday night in Manchester, England resulted in casualties and injuries among concertgoers. Early reports indicate at least five in the audience were killed after what witnesses' described as a large bang at the end of Grande’s encore. Video shot inside the arena shows panicked audience members streaming for the exits following the blast.

British authorities are describing the explosion as a “serious incident” as police worked to block off the area and investigate the source of the blast. Emergency services are on the scene tending to the injured.

May 22 2017 6:50 PM

Today in Conservative Media: Trump Gets Praise Abroad and “a Low Five” From Melania

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A daily roundup of the biggest stories in right-wing media.

Conservative media has been mostly positive about President Trump’s foreign trip thus far, especially his speech Sunday in Saudi Arabia to the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council. National Review called it “statesmanlike,” although writer Elliot Abrams found fault with Trump’s characterization of Islamist extremism. “Trump called Islamist terrorism and extremism an ‘ideology,’ suggesting that he understands it is a belief system,” he wrote. “But he appeared to be arguing that military action alone would defeat it. It won’t: Islamist extremism is a terrible and dangerous idea, and it will not be defeated by military action alone.”

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Townhall noted positive coverage of the speech by mainstream press in a post titled “NYT Praises Trump’s Anti-Terror Speech in Saudi Arabia.” Rush Limbaugh singled out news that Saudi Arabia and the UAE would commit $100 million to a women’s entrepreneurship fund proposed by Ivanka Trump for commendation. “Trump went to the Middle East and made women’s entrepreneurial endeavors a major issue,” he said. “It is a more pro-women thing than Barack Obama ever attempted in this part of the world. Yet we will not hear a word about it from America’s feminists or the American left.”

Trump also earned plaudits for his first day in Israel on Monday. The Gateway Pundit’s Lucian Wintrich was effusive:

President Trump’s first foreign trip, and first visit to the Middle East, as President further illustrates his strength and leadership capabilities as he dealt with the Saudis and Israelis who in turn greeted him with open arms and gracious receptions.
In another powerful and decisive move, President Trump today assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Iran will never have nuclear weapons. He asserted that Iran felt it could “do what they want” following their successful finessing and railroading of the U.S.’s blundering former President Barrack [sic] Obama.

PJ Media called Trump’s day an “encouraging performance.” “Trump and his administration,” P. David Hornik wrote, “appear serious about terror, serious about the Iranian threat, appreciative of Israel, able to distinguish between allies and enemies in the roiling Middle East, and aware that Israeli-Palestinian peace is a tall order.” But Hornik also criticized Trump’s comment seemingly confirming that he had disclosed Israeli intelligence to Russia’s Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak this month. “What is of concern, of course, is that the source of the top-secret information Trump conveyed about ISIS and its plans could be inferred whether or not Trump specifically mentioned Israel,” he wrote.

At the Weekly Standard, Michael Warren concurred. “The issue raised by intelligence experts was that Trump disclosed the information without our ally's intelligence service's knowledge or consent,” he wrote. “It is possible that Trump is mentioning Israel now only because of the news reports that named Israel, which could mean that McMaster was being truthful when he said Trump didn't know the source. But Trump's comments make him look like he's unwittingly incriminating himself.”

Melania Trump earned high marks from some outlets. A Lifezette headline read, “Melania Trump Shines on First Foreign Trip,” while Breitbart called her the trip’s “breakout star.” “[W]hat was most impressive was the First Lady’s gesture of holding the hand of Israel’s First Lady, Nechama Rivlin, who carries an oxygen tank due to a respiratory illness,” Breitbart’s Joel Pollak wrote. “The image of the tall Mrs. Trump guiding the congenial but frail Mrs. Rivlin went beyond normal diplomatic protocol and presented an image of kindness.”

A few outlets also attempted to beat back against a viral video that appeared to show Melania swatting away the president’s hand while walking together. A Gateway Pundit headline called the matter “fake news” and said that Melania had given Trump a “low five.” Breitbart’s promo headline read, “Fake News: Left Claims Melania Slaps Away Trump’s Hand.” However, the Blaze, the Washington Examiner, and the Independent Journal Review ran posts agreeing that Melania had, in fact, slapped Trump’s hand away.

May 22 2017 6:32 PM

Today's Impeach-O-Meter: What the Orb Foretells

In the tradition of the Clintonometer and the Trump Apocalypse Watch, the Impeach-O-Meter is a wildly subjective and speculative daily estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump leaves office before his term ends, whether by being impeached (and convicted) or by resigning under threat of same.

On Sunday, in Saudi Arabia, Donald Trump touched a glowing orb which symbolized the global battle against extremism or something. Many excellent jokes were made online about Trump and the orb, which is fine—everyone needs to have the occasional orb-related laugh. But how will his contact with the spherical, radiant mystery object affect his approval rating? How will it affect his political capital among vulnerable congressional Republicans? How will it affect the likelihood that he is impeached by the House, convicted by the Senate, and dragged out of the White House by a U.S. marshal named Big Jake who is then immediately given a primetime show on MSNBC (Big Jake's Jake Takes)?

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Let's take a look.

Ways in which touching the orb makes Trump more likely to be impeached:

  • Its unfathomable, multi-dimensional being-ness cannot be described by human language, let alone understood in a manner that would make its relevance to our quotidian concerns comprehensible.

Ways in which touching the orb makes Trump less likely to be impeached:

  • Its unfathomable, multi-dimensional being-ness cannot be described by human language, let alone understood in a manner that would make its relevance to our quotidian concerns comprehensible.

On the whole, it seems like a wash. Our likelihood holds steady at 35 percent.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.

May 22 2017 5:04 PM

Yes, Ivanka’s Saudi-Funded World Bank Project Is Hugely Hypocritical. No, It’s Not (Yet) Wrong.

The World Bank announced this past weekend that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pledged a combined $100 million toward a planned $1-billion fund aimed at helping female entrepreneurs around the world. The World Bank doesn’t plan on officially unveiling the specifics of the initiative until next month’s G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. This recent light-on-details announcement, then, amounted to little more than an effort to drum up some good press for the donors, the bank, and the person who’s getting credit for coming up with the idea for the fund in the first place: Ivanka Trump.

Ivanka’s involvement with the fund drew heavy criticism when she first made it public last month. For starters, the project appears to share broad strokes with the Clinton Foundation. Except in this case instead of being the work of a presidential nominee’s spouse, it is said to have been hatched by a family member of the current president, one who also happens to hold a major role in the administration. In an alternate world where White House senior adviser Chelsea Clinton spent this past weekend touting her role in launching a fund that takes donations from foreign governments, many on the right would be screaming PAY-FOR-PLAY and LOCK-HER-UP. Trump, remember, had this to say last summer in regards to Saudi donations to Hillary and Bill Clinton’s family non-profit:

Saudi Arabia and many of the countries that gave vast amounts of money to the Clinton Foundation want women as slaves and to kill gays. Hillary must return all money from such countries!
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Saudi Arabia’s involvement in this fund, meanwhile, is particularly notable given both the timing of the donation and how the Saudi government treats women at home. It’s funny how eager Saudi leaders are to cut a multimillion-dollar check to help women-owned businesses in the Middle East when they still severely restrict women’s rights at home, including their ability to drive and work. (Not “Ha! Ha!” funny, but SMDH funny.) The news also comes only days after the Saudis signed a $100-billion-plus arms deal with the United States, the final negotiations for which were reportedly hashed out by Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner. Toss in the Trump family’s well-documented history of using other people’s money to playact the role of benevolent billionaires, and it’s hard not to smell something odd wafting across the Atlantic.

It’s worth asking, however, whether in the alternative Clintonian timeline proposed above, conservatives would have been justified in their hypothetical collective freak-out and what that means for our current timeline. Based on the limited details we do have, I’m not so sure it would be fair to attack such a move were the shoe on the other foot—and I was reasonably troubled during the campaign by the potential conflicts of interest raised by the Clinton Foundation.

The issue is this: the similarities between the World Bank-run fund and the Clinton Foundation appear to be mostly superficial. According to the World Bank, Ivanka won’t have any control over how the money is doled out, and according to the White House, she won’t take an active role in soliciting the funds either. (The Clintons did both at their foundation.) Assuming both of those prove true, then what we have here isn’t the Ivanka Trump Foundation by another name but instead a World Bank initiative that has the support of the White House. This isn’t the first time that the bank has teamed up with a First Family to push a project near and dear to the White House’s heart either. Just last spring, for instance, the World Bank announced it would invest $2.5 billion over 5 years in education projects that benefit adolescent girls around the globe—news of which came at an event hosted by Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative, which shared that same goal.

Two of Trump’s most vocal critics when it comes to his many conflicts of interest see things similarly in regards to this new fund. Norm Eisen, a former Obama ethics czar, and Richard Painter, a former George W. Bush ethics czar, both told NPR over the weekend that as long as the World Bank runs the new fund and the donations are properly vetted, there’s good reason to believe everything is above board—and these are not men who are willing to blindly trust Trump. “In my view foreign government donations to a fund run by a reputable international organization like the World Bank for a good cause are generally acceptable,” Eisen wrote in an email. Added Painter: “I don't see this fund as a big problem if she does not solicit [donations] and it is entirely World Bank run.”

Those are big ifs, obviously, and the Kushner-brokered arms deal in particular deserves further scrutiny. You certainly shouldn’t rule out the possibility that the Trump administration prioritized Ivanka’s brand, however subtly, at the expense of U.S. interests in order to secure the Saudi cash—such decisions, after all, were frustratingly baked into our diplomatic and political systems even before Trump arrived on the scene. But until there’s evidence that’s what happened here, it seems this is better seen simply as Trump and his family reversing how they view the Saudis and “pay-for-play” now that they’re the ones in power. Such hypocrisy has been a common occurrence in this administration, but at least this time the biggest winner of the about-face will likely be someone other than the Trumps. That doesn’t make everything right, exactly—but I’m not sure it makes it wrong either.

Know anything about a potential conflicts of interest in the Trump administration? DM Josh Voorhees on Twitter or email him at josh.voorhees@slate.com.

May 22 2017 2:58 PM

Trump Wants to Ignore Turkey’s Human Rights Abuses. Turkey Isn’t Making That Easy.

Over the weekend, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took some steps to exercise the powers he won in a controversial constitutional referendum last month, which dramatically expanded the role of the presidency, a job Erdogan could now potentially hold until 2029.

The referendum was widely seen by Erdogan’s opponents and outside observers as a shift toward authoritarianism. The president has been eliminating potential opponents on a massive scale. A trial of 221 suspects in last June’s failed coup attempt against Erdogan, including dozens of former generals, began in Ankara on Monday. Erdogan has blamed the coup on followers of the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen—he denies involvement—and thousands of suspected Gulenists have been arrested in a post-coup crackdown, often on very flimsy evidence.

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The Trump administration doesn’t seem to care much about any of this.  It has signaled that it considers human rights concerns to be an unnecessary impediment to economic and diplomatic goals, a stance very much underlined by Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia. Despite all the international criticism of the referendum, Trump called to congratulate Erdogan on his victory in April. According to a Reuters report, Trump described Erdogan has a “great guy” in a conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in April, and was surprised when she brought up that he had been calling European governments Nazis for not allowing his ministers to campaign for the referendum in Europe. Trump was apparently unaware of the pretty well-publicized controversy.

Recent headlines should make it harder for the administration to ignore Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism or brush it under the rug. Last week, while Erdogan was visiting Washington to meet with Trump, his bodyguards were filmed beating up a group of mainly Kurdish protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence while the Turkish president watched from his car. The State Department expressed concern about the incident, which might have been the end of it, except that Ankara isn’t letting it go: Turkey summoned the U.S. ambassador on Monday to protest the “aggressive and unprofessional actions” by American security personnel against the bodyguards during the incident. Evidently, the guy putting a woman in a chokehold in a foreign capital is the aggrieved party here.

Also, over the weekend, NBA player Enes Kanter, who is among the most famous and visible Turks in the United States, was detained at an airport in Romania, reportedly because his passport was canceled by the Turkish government. The Oklahoma City Thunder center said in a video posted on Twitter that he believes this is because of his political views: Kanter is a supporter of Gulen and called Erdogan the “Hitler of our century.” Kanter is now back in the U.S. and says he wants to become a U.S. citizen. (There hasn’t been an official response from the Turkish government yet. )

There’s also the ongoing saga of Andrew Brunson, the American pastor who had lived in Turkey for more than two decades before being arrested and held on terrorism charges in the run-up to the referendum. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence—who has taken a particular interest in the case—raised Brunson’s case in the meeting with Erdogan in D.C., but there doesn’t appear to be any movement. The official charges against Brunson have not been released, but last week the Turkish media reported some new details of what he’s accused of. Hurriyet reports that Brunson is accused of giving a “special sermon” to a group of Kurds and saying during a meeting at his church that it would be “beneficial to have dialogue” with the Fethullah Gulen movement. This was apparently enough to get him charged as a member of the “Fethullahist Terror Organization,” as the Turkish government refers to the Gulen movement. Some of Brunson’s supporters worry that he is being used as a bargaining chip in U.S.-Turkey talks.

For all this, it doesn’t really appear that the allegedly improved U.S.-Turkey relations under Trump are bearing much fruit. The administration want Turkish help in the fight against ISIS in Syria, but Turkey is outraged at U.S. support for Kurdish fighters there, who it considers to be terrorists. The Turkish media reported over the weekend that Ankara is stepping up training of its own Syrian rebel force, which has fought against both ISIS and the U.S.-backed Kurds—two groups Turkey considers equally threatening. This increases the risk of U.S. troops on the ground in Syria getting drawn into fighting with Turkish or Turkish-backed forces.

It might be easier to understand the Trump administration’s whitewashing of Erdogan’s abuses—including abuses against Americans and U.S. residents—if it was clear what the U.S. was getting out of it.

May 22 2017 12:55 PM

Official White House Document Promotes Goal of "Lasting Peach" Between Israelis and Palestinians

Donald Trump is in Israel, and it's off to a great start. His wife pushed his hand away from hers on the tarmac in Tel Aviv when they got off their plane. Then he told an audience in Jerusalem he was happy to have arrived in Israel "from the Middle East." Then, unprompted, he appears to have confirmed to reporters that Israel was the source of the top-secret intelligence he shared with Russia's foreign minister and U.S. ambassador two weeks ago.

Then there was this:

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Everyone makes ghastly typos from time to time, of course; I assume there are seven or eight of them in this post. But it does seem like an administration deeply committed to the goals outlined in the document above might have read through the list of those goals more than zero times before sending them out to the press during an extremely high-profile, high-stakes diplomatic visit.

May 22 2017 12:12 PM

Trump Says He “Never Mentioned the Word ‘Israel’” to the Russians, Which No One Says He Did

Just ahead of a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today, President Trump told a group of reporters several times that he “never mentioned the word, or the name, Israel,” in his Oval Office conversation with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador earlier this month. He then leaned over to Netanyahu, who is presumably fully aware of what they’re talking about, and told him, “they were all saying I did.”       

Who is “they”? Neither the original Washington Post story about Trump’s disclosure of classified intelligence to the Russians, nor the New York Times story that identified Israel as the source of that intelligence, suggest that Trump identified the country by name. Rather, the concern, as the Times put it, was that he had “provided enough details to effectively expose the source of the information and the manner in which it had been collected” to the Russian government, an ally of Israel’s rival, Iran. It's also worth pointing out that neither the U.S. or Israeli governments have officially confirmed that Israel was the source, something Trump didn't bother to mention.

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It’s hard to tell who comes off worse in this clip: Trump, who thinks he should get brownie points for not actually disclosing the name, address, and passport number of the spy who gathered the intelligence he was passing to the Russian government, or Netanyahu, who desperately wants this visit to go smoothly, and stands there grinning, saying that the state of intelligence cooperation between the two countries is “excellent.”

May 22 2017 12:07 PM

The White House Is Fighting to Keep Its Ethics Waivers Secret

The White House’s secretive approach to its handling of internal ethics has reached a farcical new place. The New York Times reported on Monday that the Trump administration is trying to indefinitely delay the Office of Government Ethics’ effort to force the White House to disclose any ethics waivers it has granted to the many former lobbyists now working in the administration:

… the White House, in a highly unusual move, sent a letter to Walter M. Shaub Jr., the head of the Office of Government Ethics, asking him to withdraw a request he had sent to every federal agency for copies of the waivers. In the letter, the administration challenged his legal authority to demand the information.
Dozens of former lobbyists and industry lawyers are working in the Trump administration, which has hired them at a much higher rate than the previous administration. Keeping the waivers confidential would make it impossible to know whether any such officials are violating federal ethics rules or have been given a pass to ignore them.
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Trump signed an executive order in late January that barred lobbyists and lawyers hired as political appointees from working on “particular” government issues that involved former clients for two years. The president, however, reserved the right to issue a waiver to anyone he wanted—something President Obama did as well. But Obama automatically made any such decisions public, along with a detailed explanation of why they were made. Trump is doing all he can to keep the waivers he approves under wraps.

Shaub, who has been a thorn in Trump’s side since even before he took office, had set a June 1 deadline for the administration to turn over the documents. The OGE chief says he plans to make the waivers public if and when he gets his hands on them. “It is an extraordinary thing,” he told the Times about the requested delay. “I have never seen anything like it.”

The Trump administration’s argument for the delay is difficult to follow. In his letter to Shaub last Wednesday, Office of Management and Budget chief Mick Mulvaney asked for more time to address “legal questions regarding the scope of OGE’s authorities,” but never specified what those questions actually were. Then, in a statement provided to the Times on Sunday, OMB changed its tune to accuse Shaub of playing politics. “This request, in both its expansive scope and breathless timetable, demanded that we seek further legal guidance,” the statement read. “The very fact that this internal discussion was leaked implies that the data being sought is not being collected to satisfy our mutual high standard of ethics.”

OMB’s adjectival complaints about Shaub’s request don’t hold much water. The reason it is “expansive” is because it needs to be: Trump has hired countless industry lawyers and former lobbyists across his administration, many of which he has attempted to keep off the public’s radar. The reason the request is “breathless” is because it should be: Every day those waivers remain secret is a day the American public has no way of knowing whether Trump appointees are following the law or breaking it to advance their own financial interests. Meanwhile, OGE’s authority to ask for such information from ethics officers at individual federal agencies is quite clear—indeed, making such requests is among the agency’s chief oversight powers. (There might be an argument to be made that the White House is not technically a federal agency and therefore not subject to such oversight, but Trump is attempting to stop the process across the entire federal government, not simply the office of the executive.)

As long as the White House continues to stonewall OGE—and Congress continues to sit on the sidelines—it’s not clear exactly what else Shaub and his agency can do to acquire this critical information other than continue to cry foul in public. As I’ve explained before, in a normal, non-Trump world, if the agency were to run into trouble getting what it wanted from an individual agency, the office would then turn to the president for help. In Trump World, though, the president seems quite content to ignore any and all ethics rules he finds inconvenient.

Know anything about a potential conflicts of interest in the Trump administration? DM Josh Voorhees on Twitter or email him at josh.voorhees@slate.com.

May 22 2017 12:04 PM

Member of "Alt-Reich Nation" Facebook Group Arrested in Murder of Black College Student

On Sunday, University of Maryland police chief David Mitchell announced that the FBI had been called on to assist in the investigation of the murder of black visiting student Richard Collins III as a hate crime. Mitchell’s suspected killer Sean Urbanski, who has been charged with first and second degree murder and first degree assault, is a member of a racist Facebook group called Alt-Reich Nation.

Collins was killed after being approached by Urbanski while waiting for an Uber with two other students. From the Baltimore Sun:

Collins' friends told police they heard the suspect scream as he approached them.
The suspect said "Step left, step left if you know what's best for you," police wrote in charging documents. Collins said "no," police wrote. The suspect continued to approach, and stabbed him once in the chest.
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According to the Sun, witnesses have said that Urbaski, a University of Maryland student, appeared intoxicated at the time of the attack. The Sun also reports that a few overtly racist events have occurred at the University of Maryland this year. “A noose was found in a fraternity house earlier this month,” the Sun’s Carrie Wells writes, “and posters promoting nationalism were found on campus earlier this year.”

Mitchell asked for the FBI's help after discovering Urbanski's Facebook group, which was taken down on Sunday. From Buzzfeed:

"When I looked at the information that’s contained on that website, suffice to say that it’s despicable. It shows extreme bias against women, Latinos, members of the Jewish faith, and especially African-Americans,” Mitchell said at a press conference. “Which brings up questions as to the motive in this case. Knowing that, we will continue to look for digital evidence, among other items of evidentiary value.”

Collins was due to graduate from Bowie State University on Tuesday. He was 23 and had just been commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

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