TPM News

President Donald Trump will attend his first dinner with journalists at the Gridiron Club on March 3 this year after chastising the nation’s top media outlets consistently throughout his first year in office.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a statement Monday confirming Trump’s plans to attend the prestigious journalism club’s annual dinner, but said the President has not yet made a decision about the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

“Several people have inquired about the President’s participation in Gridiron and WHCA dinner — the President is planning to attend the gridiron dinner, but no decision has been made regarding the WHCA dinner at this time,” Sanders said in her statement. “Will keep you posted when there is an update.”

Last year, Trump skipped both the Gridiron and the Correspondents Association’s dinner. He announced the decision on Twitter last year: “I will not be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!” he tweeted.

Trump was the first president since Ronald Reagan to skip the annual affair. Reagan had to take a rain check in 1981 because he was recovering in the hospital from an assassination attempt.

Trump has been increasingly hostile toward the media since taking office and during his campaign. He regularly uses his Twitter platform to castigate individual journalists and cry “Fake News” about reporting that does not paint him in a favorable light. Trump released a list of “Fake News Award” winners on the Republican National Committee’s website in January. The “awards” were primarily a list of mistakes that were promptly corrected or retracted by news outlets.

While in Davos, Switzerland last month at the global economic summit, some of Trump’s complaints about the “fake news” media were met with boos and hisses from the crowd.

H/t: Axios. 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — Dozens of teenage students spread their bodies on the pavement in front of the White House to demand presidential action on gun control and symbolize the 17 killed in a school shooting in Florida.

The teenagers were also joined by parents and educators. The protesters held their arms crossed at their chests. Two activists were covered by an American flag. One held a sign asking, “Am I Next?”

Ella Fesler is a 16-year-old high school student in Alexandria, Virginia. She says, “It’s really important to express our anger and the importance of finally trying to make a change and having gun control in America.”

Fesler adds, “Every day when I say ‘bye’ to my parents, I do acknowledge the fact that I could never see my parents again.” President Donald Trump is at his Florida golf club, some 40 miles from the site of the school shooting.

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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — While Russian officials scoff at a U.S. indictment charging 13 Russians with meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, several people who worked at the same St. Petersburg “troll factory” say they think the criminal charges are well-founded.

Marat Mindiyarov, a former commenter at the innocuously named Internet Research Agency, says the organization’s Facebook department hired people with excellent English skills to sway U.S. public opinion through an elaborate social media campaign.

His own experience at the agency makes him trust the U.S. indictment, Mindiyarov told The Associated Press. “I believe that that’s how it was and that it was them,” he said.

The federal indictment issued Friday names a businessman linked to President Vladimir Putin and a dozen other Russians. It alleges that Yevgeny Prigozhin — a wealthy restaurateur dubbed “Putin’s chef,” paid for the internet operation that created fictitious social media accounts and used them to spread tendentious messages.

The aim of the factory’s work was either to influence voters or to undermine their faith in the U.S. political system, the 37-page indictment states.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday that while the indictment focuses on “Russian nationals,” it gives “no indication that the Russian government was involved in this in any way.” Peskov reasserted that Moscow did not interfere in the U.S. election.

Mindiyarov, who failed the language exam needed to get a job on the Facebook desk at the “troll factory,” said the sleek operation produced content that looked as if it were written by native English speakers.

“These were people with excellent language skills, interpreters, university graduates,” he said, “It’s very hard to tell it’s a foreigner writing because they master the language wonderfully.”

Another former worker at the St. Petersburg workshop, Lyudmila Savchuk, also described it as an efficient venture that churned out posts around the clock.

Like Mindiyarov, Savchuk was employed in the domestic department of the “troll farm,” not the international division. Nevertheless, she said her experience there corresponds with what she knows of the allegations made by American authorities.

“The posts and comments are made to form the opinion of Russian citizens regarding certain issues, and as we see it works for other countries, too,” Savchuk told the AP.

Paid trolls used carefully crafted fake identities that made them come across like real people, she said.

“The most important principle of the work is to have an account like a real person,” Savchuk said. “They create real characters, choosing a gender, a name, a place of living and an occupation. Therefore, it’s hard to tell that the account was made for the propaganda.”

Prigozhin, aka “Putin’s Chef,” owned restaurants and catering businesses that hosted the Russian leader’s dinners with foreign dignitaries. He used his relationship with Putin to expand his business to include services for the Russian military.

“I’m not at all upset that I’m on this list,” Prigozhin said of the indictment in comments carried by Russia’s state RIA Novosti news agency. “If they want to see the devil, let them see him.”

Along with producing social media supporting Donald Trump’s candidacy and disparaging Democrat Hillary Clinton, the Internet Research Agency purchased online advertisements using identities stolen from Americans and staged political rallies while posing as American political activists, the indictment alleges. The agency also paid people in the U.S. to promote or ridicule the candidates, the document states.

While the U.S. indictment mentioned 13 people, many more must have been involved in the effort, according to Savchuk. Russian media reports said the troll farm employed hundreds of bloggers and commentators working in shifts.

“Here they laugh about the news that 13 people could influence the elections in the U.S., but there were many more people doing that,” she said. “These technologies are unbelievably effective.”

She added that she learned how effective the troll farm’s work was when she saw regular people sharing opinions and information that she knew were planted by trolls.

“They believed it was their own thoughts, but I saw that those thoughts were formed by the propagandists,” she said.

Andrey Zakharov, an investigative journalist with Russian RBC outlet who co-reported an investigation of the troll factory, said the list of indicted Russians looked “quite random” to him.

“They simply included in it all the names they could find,” Zakharov told the AP. “According to our information, some of these people don’t work at the factory now and did not even work there during the (U.S.) elections. This does not look like a result of a solid investigation.”

Although the U.S. indictment is detailed, it makes assertions without providing evidence outright. Russian officials have seized on that, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who dismissed the charges as “just blabber.”

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Mstyslav Chernov in St. Petersburg, and Iuliia Subbotovska, Nataliya Vasilyeva and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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While on an unofficial business trip to promote the Trump family’s real estate projects in India this week, Donald Trump Jr. plans to give a speech on foreign policy at a summit attended by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The speech, entitled “Reshaping India Pacific Ties: The New Era of Cooperation,” will be delivered at a global business summit on Friday evening, The Washington Post reported. Modi will reportedly give a speech on “Preparing India for the Future” at the same event.

Trump Jr. also plans to spend part of the trip meeting with investors and business leaders, as well as attending an advertised $38,000-per-ticket “conversation and dinner” event with Trump Tower Delhi National Capital Region buyers, according to the Post.

Trump Jr. will also to travel to Mumbai to attend a presentation at the new Trump Tower there, a project that will be developed by a firm owned by a state legislator from Modi’s political party. An employee of the development firm, who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity, said part of the deal for the new Trump Tower was that then-private citizen Donald Trump would visit and do promotions there every couple of years. The election changed that, he said.

“Ideally we’d have preferred Ivanka,” the employee told the Post. “She has a better public image. But it makes sense for Donald Trump Jr. to do it.”

Mixing meetings with investors with a speech on foreign policy in the same trip raises ethical concerns that President Trump vowed to avoid upon entering the Oval Office. Before inauguration, Trump pledged his company would make no new foreign investments and said he would donate any of his company’s profits from foreign governments to the Treasury Department. As head of the Trump organization while his father is in office, Trump Jr. is reportedly not properly tracking those profits.

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The Pentagon is considering soliciting donations to fund the President’s requested military parade, which could cost between $3 million and $50 million, according to preliminary estimates from a defense official who spoke with CNN. 

Because there is currently no money set aside for a parade in the military budget, the Pentagon would likely use those private donations to offset the cost of the non-military components of the event, according to CNN. Budget director Mick Mulvaney said Wednesday that he estimates the parade could cost between $10 million to $30 million.

Defense officials are also concerned about the lack of available troops to attend a parade, CNN reported. A large-scale parade would require weeks of planning and the transportation of equipment, like tanks, to Washington, D.C. days ahead of time in order to prepare, according to the official who spoke with CNN.

The Army has prepared five different parade options for President Trump to consider: “small, medium, heavy, hybrid and a multimedia display,” according to CNN.

The small or medium option would include troops that are stationed in Washington, D.C. in ceremonial units and equipment that’s located nearby in Maryland and Virginia. The heavy option would require bringing in active duty troops, according to the official who spoke with CNN.

Department of Defense Secretary James Mattis has previously said his department is preparing options for Trump, but this is the first glimpse at what those choices could entail.

After attending France’s Bastille Day parade during a visit last year, Trump reportedly told aides he wanted a similar parade and suggested publicly that it could be held on the Fourth of July. Pentagon officials are weighing holding the event on Veterans Day in November, according to CNN, but there’s been no official word on if or when the parade will occur.

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After unleashing his rage on a variety of people and topics in a string of tweets Sunday evening, President Donald Trump wrapped up the weekend by attacking “a very insecure” Oprah Winfrey.

He told his millions of followers that he hopes she runs for president so she can be “exposed and defeated.”

As is often the case, Trump was using his Twitter platform to respond to something he saw on television. In this instance, it was an episode of “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday evening, featuring Winfrey interviewing a panel of Michigan voters about their quality of life under the Trump administration. Trump claimed her “questions were biased and slanted, the facts incorrect.”

“Hope Oprah runs so she can be exposed and defeated just like the others!” he said.

A full year into office, Trump is likely referencing his previous political opponents, like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the string of Republicans he defeated in the primary election.

While Winfrey has adamantly denied she is planning a presidential bid, her speech upon receiving a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes last month sparked widespread speculation about her 2020 intentions.

“I am actually humbled by the fact that people think that I could be a leader of the free world, but it’s just not in my spirit,” she told “60 Minutes Overtime” in a segment posted online.

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MENLO PARK, Calif. (AP) — Facebook will soon rely on centuries-old technology to try to prevent foreign meddling in U.S. elections: the post office.

Baffled in 2016 by Russian agents who bought ads to sway the U.S. presidential campaign, Facebook’s global politics and government outreach director, Katie Harbath, told a meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State in Washington on Saturday that the company would send postcards to potential buyers of political ads to confirm they reside in the U.S.

The recipient would then have to enter a code in Facebook to continue buying the ad. The method will first apply to ads that name candidates ahead of the midterm elections in November, said Facebook spokesman Andy Stone.

The plan was unveiled a day after special counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians with interfering in the presidential election. Mueller’s indictment described how Russian agents stole social security numbers and other information from real Americans and used them to create bank and PayPal accounts in order to buy online ads. Agents also recruited Americans to do things such as hold up signs at rallies organized to create content for Russian-created social media posts.

Facebook uncovered some 3,000 Russian-linked ads on Facebook and Instagram bought before and after the November 2016 election that it says may have been seen by as many as 150 million users. But ads were only part of the problem, as the Mueller indictments say that Russian agents also set up fake pages with names such as “Secured Borders,” ”Blacktivist” and “United Muslims of America” that had hundreds of thousands of followers.

Facebook did not say how the new postcard method of verification would prevent foreign agents from setting up local mailing addresses and hiring people in the U.S. to check them. But Stone said the method was “one piece of a much larger effort to address foreign electoral influence on our platform.”

Facebook’s efforts largely center around verifying people on the platform are who they say they are. To catch duplicitous ad-buyers, for instance, it is now testing out in Canada a system that allows people to see which ads are being bought by a Facebook page — say, a candidate’s — even if the person checking the ad is not in the group to whom the ad was intended to be shown.

Stone said Facebook was also able to detect and remove “tens of thousands” of fake Facebook pages in advance of French, German and British elections last year using improved machine learning techniques.

The company has said it would double the number of people working on its safety and security team to 20,000 this year and add 1,000 people to review advertising content.

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