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June 25 2017 8:40 PM

Russia Recalls Ambassador Who Is at Center of Trump Collusion Investigations

Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak is leaving Washington. The controversial diplomat will end his decadelong stint, according to BuzzFeed News, which confirmed the move with “three individuals familiar with the decision.” Although his date of departure has not been confirmed, the U.S.–Russia Business Council will be hosting a going-away party for Kislyak on July 11.

Kisyak is leaving at a time when several investigations are looking into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, including several conversations the ambassador had during and after the presidential campaign. Several top officials in President Donald Trump’s administration have faced questions about undisclosed meetings they had with Kislyak, including former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, top adviser Jared Kushner, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Last week, Newsweek described Kislyak as “the most radioactive man in Washington.”

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“He could use some time away,” a U.S.–based diplomat told BuzzFeed.

One of the key questions surrounding Kislyak involves a meeting he had with Trump’s son-in-law in December. After the meeting, Kislyak allegedly told Moscow that Kushner had requested a secret channel of communications with the Kremlin. Kislyak was also at the White House when Trump revealed classified information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in May.

Despite all this controversy though, Kislyak has not shied away from the public eye in recent months and “has remained a prominent fixture in Washington’s diplomatic party circuit,” notes BuzzFeed. Russian media has reported that Deputy Foreign Minister Anatoly Antonov has been appointed as the new ambassador to the United States but still has to be approved by Russia’s parliament.

June 25 2017 7:51 PM

Gay Pride Marchers Carrying Star of David Flags Kicked Out of Chicago Parade

Three people carrying Jewish Pride flags were asked to leave the Chicago Dyke March on Saturday in part because they “repeatedly expressed support for Zionism,” according to the organizers. One member of the Dyke March collective said those carrying the rainbow flag with a Star of David in the middle were told to leave because the flags “made people feel unsafe,” adding that the march was “anti-Zionist” an “pro-Palestinian,” according to the Windy City Times. American flags also were reportedly not welcome at the event, although it isn’t clear whether anyone was kicked out for having one. Flags from other nations appears to have been allowed.

The annual Dyke March is billed as a more inclusive event that has a stronger focus on social justice issues than the massive Chicago Pride Parade on Sunday. Some 1,500 people took part in the Dyke March this year.

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One of those who was kicked out of the march said she was approached numerous times over her flag. "They were telling me to leave because my flag was a trigger to people that they found offensive," Laurel Grauer said. "Prior to this [march] I had never been harassed or asked to leave and I had always carried the flag with me." Another person who was asked to leave told the Windy City Times that she was made to feel that “as a Jew, I am not welcome here.”

The organizers defended their decision to ask certain demonstrators to leave. A member of the Dyke March Collective spoke to Chicagoist on Sunday and insisted the organization is not anti-Semitic but rather didn’t want to be associated with anything that could be interpreted as pro-Israel. “Yesterday during the rally we saw three individuals carrying Israeli flags super imposed on rainbow flags. Some folks say they are Jewish Pride flags. But as a Collective we are very much pro-Palestine, and when we see these flags we know a lot of folks who are under attack by Israel see the visuals of the flag as a threat, so we don't want anything in the [Dyke March] space that can inadvertently or advertently express Zionism,” she said. “So we asked the folks to please leave. We told them people in the space were feeling threatened.”

The American Jewish Committee condemned the action and called for others to speak up against the move. “In the heart of our city one of the most blatant incidents of anti-Semitism took place today at the Dyke March,” said AJC Chicago Director Amy Stoken . “Where is the collective outrage over this despicable targeting of Jews?”

Last year, Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern explored the growing anti-Semitism that “has begun to tear at the seams of the LGBTQ movement.”

June 25 2017 5:39 PM

Trump Ends 20-Year Tradition of Celebrating Ramadan at White House

President Donald Trump has now officially become the first president in nearly two decades to not host an iftar dinner marking the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Instead of continuing with the tradition that began under President Bill Clinton, Trump and First Lady Melania Trump released a statement wishing “warm greetings to Muslims as they celebrate Eid al-Fitr.” Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims around the world abstain from eating and drinking from dawn until dusk.

The annual White House dinners were typically attended by prominent members of the Muslim community as well as lawmakers and diplomats. The dinners continued uninterrupted after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks as then-President George W. Bush emphasized the country was combating terrorism and not Islam.

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“It is disappointing because that’s been a good tradition,” Imam Talib Shareef of the Nation’s Mosque in Washington, D.C., told Newsweek. “To stop it doesn’t send a good message. You get the chance to go golfing and all this other kind of stuff. How come you don’t have time for a population of your society that needs some assistance? The message that it sends is that we’re not that important.”

When he was campaigning for the presidency, Trump said in an interview that he wouldn’t be opposed to continuing the tradition. “It wouldn’t bother me. It wouldn’t bother me,” Trump said. “It’s not something I’ve given a lot of thought to but it wouldn’t bother me.”

Confirmation that the White House won’t commemorate Ramadan comes shortly after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also raised eyebrows by refusing to host the annual Ramadan event at the State Department.

Historians believe the first iftar dinner at the White House took place in 1805, when President Thomas Jefferson hosted Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, Tunisia’s envoy to the United States, reports the Washington Post. Although Jefferson’s working dinners usually began at 3:30 p.m., in December 1805 the invitations noted that “dinner will be on the table precisely at sun-set.”

June 25 2017 1:13 PM

More Than 150 Burned Alive in Pakistan as Overturned Oil Truck Explodes

An accident turned into a huge tragedy in eastern Pakistan, when a fuel tanker exploded and killed at least 153 people. Dozens more were injured and are in critical condition, mostly with severe burns to as much as 80 percent of their bodies. The tanker appeared to be speeding and overturned during a sharp turn on the highway outside the city of Bahawalpur. The driver, who apparently lost control of the truck after he blew a tire, survived the accident.

Most of those who died at the scene were local villagers who went to look at the accident and collect leaking fuel in containers. Many people gathered quickly at least in part because a loudspeaker on top of a mosque in the area alerted villagers about the leaking fuel. Police officers tried to keep people away from the crash but they were overwhelmed by people rushing to get a hold of the valuable product.

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About 45 minutes after the initial crash, the tanker exploded into a huge fireball and people at the scene couldn’t do anything to get away from the flames.

“I have never seen anything like it in my life,” a police officer said. “Victims trapped in the fireball. They were screaming for help.” Many of the bodies at the scene were burned beyond recognition.

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad sent out condolences through Twitter.

June 25 2017 12:43 PM

Watch AirAsia X Flight Shake Like “Washing Machine” Due to Engine Problem

An AirAsia X flight from Australia to Malaysia was forced to turn back 90 minutes after takeoff when it experienced a problem with the engine and began shaking like a “washing machine,” according to one of the passengers. Flight D7237 landed safely after a few harrowing moments.

“It was essentially the engine seized up I think, that's what they told us anyway,” passenger Brenton Atkinson told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “It was literally like you were sitting on top of a washing machine. The whole thing was going.”

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Passengers reported hearing a loud explosion and then the plane began shaking violently. “We were asleep and heard a loud bang around the 1-hour-and-15-minute mark,” Damien Stevens told CNN. “It shook for the whole ride back, close on two hours.”

It was clear from the beginning that this was not your standard turbulence and the pilot reportedly asked passengers to pray on two separate occasions. “I could tell by the cabin crew's reaction that it was really bad,” passenger Sophie Nicolas said. “I was crying a lot, a lot of people were crying, trying to call their mums and stuff but we couldn't really do anything just wait and trust the captain.”

June 25 2017 11:33 AM

Trump Takes to Twitter to Discuss Relevant Issue of the Day: The 2016 Democratic Primary

President Donald Trump’s administration is engulfed in scandal but the commander in chief seems to have woken up Sunday morning with last year’s Democratic primary battle in his mind. At a time when there is lots of talk about possible collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, the commander in chief took to Twitter to accuse someone else of collusion: Hillary Clinton. And just to emphasize his point, Trump uses the word twice in one tweet. “Hillary Clinton colluded with the Democratic Party in order to beat Crazy Bernie Sanders,” Trump wrote. “Is she allowed to so collude? Unfair to Bernie!”

Trump, who is fond of talking about his election victory, was clearly referencing the hacked Democratic National Committee emails that showed how party officials were none too happy with the rise of Sanders during the primary battle. But that hacking is at the core of the investigation into Russia’s possible meddling in the campaign so whether he intended to or not, Trump’s tweet once again brings the issue of Moscow’s effort to hurt Clinton’s candidacy to the forefront.

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The president’s Sunday morning tweet follows a pattern of Trump taking to Twitter to complain about the election since the bombshell Washington Post story on Friday that detailed the debate within then-President Barack Obama’s White House about how to best respond to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Since the story was published, Trump sent out several tweets questioning why Obama didn’t do more to combat Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the election.

June 24 2017 8:40 PM

Is Justice Anthony Kennedy Getting Ready to Announce Retirement?

The speculation is hardly new. For months now, Supreme Court watchers have been wondering whether Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is often the deciding vote in controversial cases, will be stepping down. (Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick looked into the issue almost a month ago.) Now as the Supreme Court gets ready for its final week of work before the summer holiday, some are wondering whether Kennedy will use the court’s last public session on Monday to announce his retirement. Kennedy himself hasn’t actually said anything about the issue, but the prospect that President Donald Trump will be able to fill up a second Supreme Court seat is terrifying many liberals who are afraid that would allow conservatives to take decisive control over the highest court in the land.

So where is all this speculation coming from? The Associated Press summarizes:

Kennedy turns 81 next month and has been on the court for nearly 30 years. Several of his former law clerks have said they think he is contemplating stepping down in the next year or so. Kennedy and his clerks were gathering over the weekend for a reunion that was pushed up a year and helped spark talk he might be leaving the court.
“Soon we’ll know if rumors of Kennedy’s retirement are accurate,” one former Kennedy clerk, George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr, said on Twitter Friday.
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Kerr seemed to dismiss the attention his tweet received, writing on Saturday that he was just thinking out loud and had no inside information on the issue. “The news cycle in 2017: I am now tweeting about a Drudge banner that links to a story about speculation that quotes one of my tweets,” Kerr wrote.

CNN talks to “sources close to Kennedy” who say the justice is seriously considering retirement, but they aren’t sure about timing and whether it will happen this term. Several of his former clerks who will be attending this weekend’s reunion are reportedly concerned this will be the last time they will see Kennedy as a justice.

Also adding fuel to the rumor mill fire is that several Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee have publicly said they expect a new vacancy in the Supreme Court in the coming months. And conservative pundit Bill Kristol also lent credence to the rumors on Saturday, writing on Twitter that “it’s at least 50-50 that Justice Kennedy announces his retirement next week.”

June 24 2017 6:38 PM

Trump Appears to Acknowledge Russia Meddled in Election—but Blames Obama

President Donald Trump has used several phrases to characterize the assessment of 17 intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in last year’s presidential election, including “witch hunt,” “phony,” a “Democrat excuse,” and “a big Dem HOAX!” to name a few. Now it seems Trump is acknowledging that Moscow did in fact try to influence the election, but only as a way to blame former President Barack Obama for failing to do more to stop it. “Just out: The Obama Administration knew far in advance of November 8th about election meddling by Russia,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Did nothing about it. WHY?”

Although Trump didn’t specify what had inspired his tweet, it came shortly after the Washington Post published an explosive piece detailing the debate within the Obama administration about how to best respond to the Russian effort to influence the election. Before Friday, Trump had been decidedly vague on whether he agreed that Moscow had tried to meddle in the campaign. In fact, just earlier in the week, Press Secretary Sean Spicer dodged the question. “I have not sat down and talked to him about that specific thing,” Spicer said on Tuesday. “Obviously we've been dealing with a lot of other issues today.”

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Trump’s tweet came shortly after he also blamed Obama for failing to do more about Russian interference during an interview with Fox News that is scheduled to air on Sunday morning. “Well I just heard today for the first time that Obama knew about Russia a long time before the election, and he did nothing about it,” Trump said in an excerpt of his interview that was released Friday. “The CIA gave him information on Russia a long time before the election. … If he had the information, why didn't he do something about it? He should have done something about it. But you don’t read that. It’s quite sad.”

Trump continued making the case against his predecessor on Saturday, writing two tweets emphasizing that the focus of any investigation should be Obama’s failure to act. “Since the Obama Administration was told way before the 2016 Election that the Russians were meddling, why no action?” Trump wrote. “Focus on them, not T!”

The president followed that up with a quote from the Post piece, noting that how an Obama administration official “said they ‘choked’ when it came to acting on Russian meddling of election” and wondered: “They didn’t want to hurt Hillary?”

With that tweet Trump cited one of the most explosive portions of the Post story, when a former senior administration official acknowledges the White House should have done more to deal with the Russian election meddling. “It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend,” the former senior Obama administration official told the Post. “I feel like we sort of choked.”

June 24 2017 1:50 PM

Joe Biden Rips Into Billionaire Hedge Fund Manager Ackman: “Shut the Hell Up”

It took a while to leak but it seems the most interesting thing that happened in a star-studded dinner at the SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) Conference in May was a spat between former Vice President Joe Biden and activist hedge fund manager Bill Ackman. At the private event, former GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush asked Biden why he didn’t run for president. Biden then went into an explanation of his decision and how much it was affected by the death of his son, Beau Biden.

The former vice president reportedly got emotional during the answer, according to Fox Business Network. “I’m sorry,” Biden said as the room grew quiet. “I’ve said enough.”

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That’s when Ackman, one of the most controversial men in Wall Street, decided it would be a good time to speak up: “Why? That’s never stopped you before.” Biden then reportedly turned to someone who was next to him and leveled what Ackman must surely consider to be one of the worst insults: “Who is this asshole?”

Whether Biden got his answer or not is unclear, but the former vice president quickly ripped into the founder of Pershing Square Capital Management, who is best known for his insistence that Herbalife is a pyramid scheme. “Look, I don't know who you are, wiseass, but never disrespect the memory of my dead son,” Biden reportedly said. Ackman then apparently tried to utter some sort of apology but Biden wasn’t having it: “Just shut the hell up.”

A spokesman for Ackman disagreed with “the idea that there was an argument or altercation between Joe Biden and Bill Ackman” but he didn’t deny the exchange between the two had taken place.

At least some of the people who talked to Fox Business Network about the exchange say it shows how 74-year-old Biden still has the stamina and political instincts to run for the presidency.

June 24 2017 12:44 PM

Number of Refugees Entering U.S. Plunges by Almost Half Under Trump

The first three months of President Donald Trump’s administration was not a particularly good time to be a refugee trying to enter the United States. The Department of Homeland Security has released the figures that show how the number of refugees admitted into the country plunged by nearly half under Trump. Around 13,000 refugees entered the United States in the first three months of Trump’s presidency, compared to the 25,000 who were admitted at the end of President Barack Obama’s administration.

The comparison is particularly stark because the numbers suggest there was a sharp boost in refugee intakes during the final months of the Obama administration. The 25,000 arrivals recorded in the last three months of Obama’s presidency marked an 86 percent increase, on the year. Even disregarding this sharp increase though, the numbers were still down under Trump. Refugee arrivals declined 12 percent in the first three months of Trump’s presidency, compared to the same period last year.

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The nationalities of the refugees remained largely the same with five countries—the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and Myanmar—making up two-thirds of the total arrivals during the two periods. That suggests the numbers would have been even lower if courts had not blocked Trump’s efforts to impose a travel ban on certain countries, including Syria and Somalia.

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