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Trump compares Mueller probe to 1950s McCarthyism

President Donald Trump lashed out angrily Sunday morning on Twitter, labeling a report in The New York Times that a White House counsel cooperated with Robert Mueller’s investigation as a “fake story” and comparing the probe to the McCarthyism of the 1950s.

>> Read more trending news 

The Times reported that White House lawyer Donald McGahn had participated in at least three interviews with the special counsel that stretched to approximately 30 hours.

The president tweeted, “We are now in period with Mueller and his gang that make Joseph McCarthy look like a baby! Rigged Witch Hunt!”

“This is why the Fake News Media has become the Enemy of the People,” Trump wrote in another tweet. “So bad for America!”

McGahn and his lawyer, William A. Burck, said they believed the president was setting them up to take the blame for any possible illegal acts of obstruction, the Times reported.

McCarthy, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, spent nearly five years attempting to root out Communist sympathizers in the U.S. government. He was censured by the Senate after he attacked the Army during hearings in 1954.

Who is Christine Hallquist? Transgender woman wins Democratic nomination for Vermont governor

A Vermont Democrat has become the first transgender gubernatorial nominee for a major political party in the United States.

According to The Associated Press and state election returns, Christine Hallquist, 62, of Hyde Park, won the nomination with 48.3 percent of votes and will face Republican Gov. Phil Scott in November.

>> Jamie Dupree: 12 weeks to Election Day as four more states hold primaries for Congress

Here's what we know about Hallquist:

1. She is a former utility executive. Hallquist was chief executive officer of the Vermont Electric Co-op from 2005 to early 2018, according to her campaign website and LinkedIn profile. She started working for the co-op as an engineering and technology consultant in 1998, then became engineering and operations manager two years later.

>> Midterm elections 2018: When are the primaries? A state-by-state list

2. She ran on a progressive platform. Hallquist supports efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, institute paid family and medical leave, and "ban on the sale of so-called assault weapons," Vermont Public Radio reported. Another one of Hallquist's goals is to "work with like-minded states to lay the groundwork for a universal health care system," her campaign website says. She also wants to "connect every home and business in Vermont with fiber-optic cable" so everyone has access to high-speed internet, according to the site. Learn more here or here.

3. Hallquist is married and has three children. According to Politico, she was formerly known as Dave and grew up in upstate New York. In 1976, she moved to Vermont, "first living in Essex Junction, and then settling with her spouse Pat in 1984 in Hyde Park next to the Green River Reservoir," her campaign website says.

>> Read more trending news 

4. She transitioned three years ago as her son, Derek, was filming a documentary about her. "While in the process of filming 'Denial' in 2015, Christine made the decision, after years of holding it inside, to come out as her true self, a transgender woman, becoming the first business leader in the country to transition while in office," Hallquist's campaign website saysLearn more about the documentary here.

>> Who is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democratic Socialist who beat Rep. Joe Crowley in NY primary?

5. Prominent progressives, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, tweeted their support for Hallquist after her victory Tuesday night. See some of their tweets below:


Car wash's billboard promoting QAnon conspiracy theory sparks controversy

A Georgia car wash has aligned its business with a group that believes a government insider is publicly uncovering a vast left-wing plot against President Donald Trump.

The billboard reads “#QANON” — citing a group many have said espouse conspiracy theories — and has a logo with the name of Car Nutz Car Wash in the bottom left corner. 

>> Read more trending news 

Car wash co-owner Cleve Meredith said the sign is about a mile away from his business in Acworth.

He said he let his employees know before putting up the sign in June.

“We all support Freedom and independent thought,” he wrote in an email response to questions from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday.

Meredith said he put up the billboard because he’s “a patriot among the millions who love this country.”

>> On AJC.com: Two jailers fired for online comments

In October 2017, an anonymous user posted on 4chan, a shadowy part of the internet that has been used as a breeding ground for extreme ideas. The poster, under the moniker “Q,” claimed to have a high-level government clearance.

The right-wing group believes debunked myths, including those surrounding Pizzagate — the false notion that Democratic party officials were running a child-sex ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizza shop. In 2016, a man who went to the store to “self-investigate” the fabrication fired three shots from an AR-15 in the shop. 

In June, an armed man drove an armored vehicle to the Hoover Dam claiming to be on a mission from QAnon.

Trump has not explicitly discussed Q in public, but the group’s followers divine meaning from actions and phrases used by the president. For the most part, they appear to be Trump supporters.

Dozens of people at a Trump rally in Tampa on July 31 had Q signs and T-shirts and spoke to reporters about their beliefs.

>> On AJC.com: What happened at Charlottesville: Looking back on the anniversary of the deadly rally 

Q has been amplified by people like actor Roseanne Barr, who was banished from her self-titled television reboot after comparing former White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, who is black, to an ape. She claims she didn’t mean to evoke racism.

The Acworth business, which records show incorporated in the state in 2013, has received mixed reviews online. 

On Yelp, the business has been bombarded with one-star reviews that appear to be because of the sign. One reads: “The sign is rasict (sic) and basically conspiracy theories that prey on people's fears.”

In the reviews section of Google, the business has been flooded with five-star reviews like this one: “Thank you for your wonderful #QANON billboard. A true patriotic business - please patronize these wonderful people!!”

Meredith, the car wash co-owner, said “common sense” drew him to QAnon. He refuted calling it a group, instead describing it as “a wake-up call."

He said he felt the reviews created a "zero sum net gain" because "individuals have their own opinions and should express them freely."

When asked if he understood why some people would be offended by the sign, he simply responded: “Misinformation.”

Trump denies using racial slur during 'Celebrity Apprentice'

President Donald Trump slammed former White House aide and “Apprentice” alum Omarosa Manigault Newman on Monday after she released audio clips that she claims were recorded during interactions with President Donald Trump and Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Here are the latest updates:

Update 9:55 p.m. EDT Aug. 13: According to the Associated Press, Trump said he received a phone call from Mark Burnett, the producer of “The Apprentice” assuring him that no tapes exist of him using the N-word, as former White House adviser Omarosa Manigault Newman claims.

Manigault Newman writes in her new memoir that she’d heard such tapes existed. She now says she listened to one after the book closed.

Update 10:25 a.m. EDT Aug. 13: Trump took to Twitter Monday morning to blame the media for his attacks on Manigault Newman, writing that “the Fake News Media will be working overtime to make even Wacky Omarosa look legitimate as possible.”

Manigault Newman served as the director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison until January, when reports surfaced that she was "physically dragged" from the White House. Secret Service officials later denied Manigault Newman was physically removed from the premises. 

>> Omarosa’s book promises 'jaw-dropping' account on White House from Trump insider

She was one of Trump's most prominent African-American supporters. The president thanked her in February during an event for African-American History Month, saying that she was "very special."

"I want to thank my television star over here," Trump said at the Feb. 1 event, referencing Manigault Newman's time on his reality show competition, "The Apprentice."

Update 10 a.m. EDT Aug. 13: Trump slammed “Wacky Omarosa” Monday morning after the former White House aide released audio clips of calls she said were made with Trump and Kelly.

>> Omarosa tell-all on Trump White House called 'Unhinged' to be released in August 

“Wacky Omarosa, who got fired 3 times on the Apprentice, now got fired for the last time,” the president said Monday in a tweet. “She never made it, never will. She begged me for a job, tears in her eyes, I said Ok. People in the White House hated her. She was vicious, but not smart. I would rarely see her but heard really bad things.”

Update 7:28 a.m. EDT Aug. 13: “Apprentice” alum Omarosa Manigault Newman has released an audio clip that she says was taken during a phone call with President Donald Trump the day after she was fired from her White House job in December.

According to NBC News, the recording seems to indicate that Trump did not know White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had fired Newman the day before.

>> Omarosa says she wouldn’t vote for Trump again ‘in a million years’

“Omarosa, what’s going on? I just saw on the news that you’re thinking about leaving. What happened?” a man, purportedly Trump, says in the clip.

He later adds: “Nobody even told me about it. You know they run a big operation, but I didn’t know it. I didn’t know that. [Expletive] it. I don’t love you leaving at all.”

>> Listen to the clip here (WARNING: Audio includes profanity.)

Original report: "Apprentice" alum Omarosa Manigault Newman claims that she taped the moment she was fired from her job as an adviser to President Donald Trump – and released the audio to NBC's "Meet the Press."

>> Listen to the audio here

On Sunday, the news show aired the clips, which Newman said were taken in the White House Situation Room as Chief of Staff John Kelly fired her in December.

"It's come to my attention over the last few months that there's been some pretty, in my opinion, significant integrity issues," a man, purportedly Kelly, can be heard saying in the recording.

>> Omarosa on Trump White House: ‘It’s gonna not be OK’

He later adds: "I think it's important to understand that if we make this a friendly departure ... you can look at your time here in the White House as a year of service to the nation, and then you can go on without any type of difficulty in the future relative to your reputation."

Newman told "Meet the Press" that she believed the latter was a threat.

"He goes on to say that 'things can get ugly for you,'" said Newman, whose book, "Unhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White House," hits stores Tuesday. "The chief of staff of the United States, under the direction of the president of the United States, threatening me on damage to my reputation and things getting ugly for me – that's downright criminal."

>> Watch the clip here

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement Sunday night condemning Newman's actions.

"The very idea a staff member would sneak a recording device into the White House Situation Room shows a blatant disregard for our national security – and then to brag about it on national television further proves the lack of character and integrity of this disgruntled former White House employee," Sanders said.

>> Read more trending news 

CNN reported that electronic devices such as cellphones are not allowed in the Situation Room.

White House officials are exploring "legal options" to prevent Newman from sharing more audio, ABC News reported Sunday evening.

The Associated Press contributed to these reports

Florida candidate accused of faking college diploma

A heated political race in Florida is coming down to a question of degrees.

>> Read more trending news 

Melissa Howard, a candidate for the Florida Legislature, has been accused of lying about graduating from college and then producing a fake diploma, the Herald-Tribune of Sarasota reported.

Howard, a businesswoman running against Tommy Gregory in the Aug. 28 Republican primary for state House District 73, on Friday answered accusations from a conservative-based website about her college graduation by distributing photographs of what she claimed was her diploma from Miami University in Ohio. According to the Herald-Tribune, she also posted photographs of what she claimed was her transcript on Facebook, writing that “The truth shall set you free!”

“It only took a night of flying back to my old stomping grounds to catch my opponent in yet another lie!” Howard wrote in her post.

However, the Herald-Tribune cited an email from Miami University general counsel Robin Parker, who said Howard never graduated.

Howard, whose maiden name was Fox when she attended the Ohio university, did not receive a bachelor of science degree in marketing in December 1996 as she claimed, the Herald-Tribune reported, citing Parker’s email.

“We have no such record of a degree,” Parker wrote, noting that the university did not offer a degree in marketing.. 

“Miami University’s degree for Marketing majors then, as it is now, was a Bachelor of Science in Business,” Parker wrote, adding that Howard’s major, according to university records, was retail. “The picture of the diploma that was posted on the HowardforHouse73 Facebook page does not appear to be an accurate Miami University diploma.

The website Florida News Online, which calls itself “The conservative choice for Florida news & politics.” questioned Howard’s academic credentials in a story on Tuesday.

“I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t deal with this,” Howard told the Herald-Tribune on Friday.

Howard told the website that the story was “a lie,” and Florida News Online retracted the story and apologized after Howard distributed the photo of her holding a framed diploma, the Herald-Tribune reported. However, the site reposted its story after Parker told them Howard did not graduate, Florida News Online reported.

Howard could not be reached for comment Saturday, the Herald-Tribune reported.

Her campaign consultant, Anthony Pedicini, said in a text message to the newspaper that Howard’s husband, Ian Howard, had a “cardiac event” Friday and is in the hospital.

“Melissa is focused on her family — not fake news this morning,” Pedicini wrote Saturday.

Gregory said in a text to the Herald-Tribune that “voters deserve nothing less than truth and integrity from their elected officials.”

“Unfortunately, it seems that Melissa Howard has failed that test,” he said in his text.

Houston restaurant faces backlash over Jeff Sessions photo

A Houston restaurant chain found itself in hot water with local residents after a photo with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions went viral, KHOU reported.

>> Read more trending news 

Sessions, who visited Houston recently, was shown in a photograph with El Tiempo restaurant co-owner Dominic Laurenzo after the attorney general had dinner there Friday.

The attorney general’s tough stance on immigration is not popular among Texans, and some patrons believed the photograph was an endorsement by the owners of the Tex-Mex restaurant, the television station reported.

Laurenzo's Restaurants president Roland Laurenzo disagreed with that perception but conceded posting the photo on social media was a mistake.

“In retrospect, it was a mistake because it angered so many people," Roland Laurenzo told KHOU. "We have gotten so many complaints and comments. And threats, death threats. This has been extremely shocking to our family.”

The post was removed late Friday after it was blasted by some customers, who called for a boycott. The restaurant’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages were taken down Saturday, The Houston Chronicle reported.

Roland Laurenzo said the photo was sent to the person who handles the restaurant chain’s social media accounts and it was posted without consulting with management, KPRC reported.

"The last thing I ever wanted to do was to upset everybody. It didn't dawn on me until after that everyone was associating me with approving of the politics of Mr. Sessions and by no means is that the case. It's been a big misunderstanding," Roland Laurenzo told the television station.

Roland Laurenzo told KHOU that his company is not in favor of separating families and does not agree with Sessions' views on gay rights.

Houston activist Cesar Espinosa said he was not satisfied by Laurenzo’s explanation.

"A lot of these restaurants hire undocumented people, they hire immigrants to work, to take these long shifts, to serve people with a smile on their face, and you have this man, Jeff Sessions, who, consequentially, before visiting El Tiempo, blamed a lot of the U.S. crime, a lot of the U.S. ills on immigrants,” Espinosa told KPRC. “So you can't have it both ways. You can't be hypocritical and say, 'I don't like immigrants but I like what they contribute to the U.S. through their food and their culture.'"

Actor Steven Seagal named by Russia as special envoy to U.S. 

Actor Steven Seagal has a new role, but this one isn't in a movie.

According to The Associated Press, the action star is taking on the real-life job of Russia’s special envoy for humanitarian ties with the U.S.

>> Read more trending news 

Russia's Foreign Ministry announced Saturday that it had named Seagal to the position, writing on Facebook that the actor would "facilitate relations between Russia and the United States in the humanitarian field, including cooperation in culture, arts, public and youth exchanges," the AP reported.

>> See the Facebook post here

Seagal, a frequent ally and defender of Russian President Vladimir Putin, became a Russian citizen two years ago and recently was banned from entering Ukraine because of national security concerns, the AP reported

Read more here. 

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

'You': Rudy Giuliani's one-word tweet inspires pages of Twitter jokes

Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City and lawyer for President Donald Trump, gifted Twitter with a new meme. On Sunday morning, he tweeted “You” and nothing else. 

>> See the tweet here

Like Trump tweeting “covfefe,” this simple mistake inspired reams of jokes. Twitter proved it can spin one word into comedy gold, or something close to it.

>> Rudy Giuliani resigns from law firm: Things to know about Trump's lawyer

Then there were the song lyrics. Twitter stuck Giuliani’s tweet into what feels like every song ever made. Good luck reading this without at least one getting stuck in your head.

Austin report on Confederate monuments suggests renaming Texas' capital city

Could Austin, Texas, get a new name? That's what a report by the city's Equity Office about Confederate monuments is suggesting.

>> On MyStatesman.com: City report on Confederate monuments raises idea of renaming Austin

According to the Austin American-Statesman, the report says "father of Texas" Stephen F. Austin, for whom the state's capital city was named, spoke against abolishing slavery, arguing that slaves would become "vagabonds" if they gained freedom.

>> Read more trending news 

Additionally, the report recommends reviewing the names of Barton Springs and several streets named after slave owner William Barton; Pease Park; and Bouldin Creek.

Read more here.

Georgia lawmaker who used racial slurs, dropped pants on Sacha Baron Cohen show resigns

The Georgia lawmaker who exposed himself and yelled racial slurs during an episode of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Showtime series is resigning his seat in the state Legislature, according to House Speaker David Ralston’s office.

>> On AJC.com: In Rep. Jason Spencer's Southeast Georgia district, disgust at his racist words, antics

State Rep. Jason Spencer faced increasing pressure to step down shortly after the episode of “Who is America?” aired Sunday night, and some politicians were urging a special session to oust him if he refused. He will step down at the end of the month, Ralston spokesman Kaleb McMichen said late Tuesday. 

>> On AJC.com: Ga. lawmaker urged to resign after using racial slurs, dropping pants on TV show

Spencer apologized for the “ridiculously ugly episode,” but initially refused to resign. Although he lost the GOP primary in May, he could have remained in public office through the November general election. 

“Sacha Baron Cohen and his associates took advantage of my paralyzing fear that my family would be attacked,” said Spencer, who added that he was told the techniques would deter “what I believed was an inevitable attack.” 

>> On AJC.com: Who is Jason Spencer, the Ga. lawmaker who yelled racial slurs on TV?

If he refused to step down, he faced potential repercussions: Georgia Republican leaders were researching ways to reprimand him, and two legislative leaders discussed filing a joint ethics complaint targeting Spencer’s behavior. 

But he also had financial incentive to stay. If he had remained in office through January, he would have logged eight years of service and become eligible for taxpayer-subsidized health insurance for life.

>> On MyAJC.com: Pranking of state Rep. Jason Spencer is a television tradition

The episode shows Cohen, who portrayed himself as an Israeli military expert, at a gym persuading Spencer to take part in what he was told was a counterterrorism video. 

Cohen gets Spencer to yell racial epithets, make offensive remarks about Chinese tourists and pull down his pants and shimmy his naked buttocks toward purported attackers while yelling “USA” and “America.” He was told these tactics ward off homophobic militants. 

In another clip after the show’s credits, Spencer returns to the camera with a “message to the terrorists.” He then repeats a racial slur and stabs a knife into the groin area of a dummy clad in a black burqa before shoving another item into the dummy’s mouth.

At the end of the segment, Spencer reminds the audience he’s an elected official serving in the Georgia Legislature. It ends with the Georgia peach logo flashing on screen. 

It was the most humiliating yet to air on Cohen’s new show, which last week featured several Republican lawmakers and gun rights supporters backing a fictitious program to teach kindergartners to use firearms.

Spencer told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that he was considering legal action against the show’s producers, and he claimed they “took advantage of my fears that I would be attacked by someone” to persuade him to appear. 

>> Read more trending news 

“They exploited my state of mind for profit and notoriety,” said Spencer, who said he was denied the chance to have final approval over what will air. “This media company’s deceptive and fraudulent behavior is exactly why President Donald Trump was elected.”

Spencer has declined to comment further and couldn’t be reached late Tuesday. Showtime has denied that Cohen or the show’s producers acted improperly

Spencer was defeated by Republican challenger Steven Sainz after four terms representing a conservative southeast Georgia district, where he grabbed headlines that enraged lawmakers from both parties. 

He faced calls for resignation late last year after he warned a black former state legislator that she won’t be “met with torches but something a lot more definitive” if she continued to advocate for the removal of Confederate statues in South Georgia. 

And Republican leaders roundly criticized his legislative proposal that would bar women from wearing burqas on public property, forcing him to withdraw the legislation.  

This year, he shifted his focus toward a bill that would have allowed adult survivors of child sexual abuse more time to file lawsuits. The bill didn’t pass amid powerful opposition from the Boy Scouts and some other nonprofit organizations.

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