March 13, 2018
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Markus Zusak has finally finished his long-anticipated young adult novel Bridge of Clay. The book will be published by Random House in October, The New York Times reported.

Zusak has been working on this project since his best-seller, The Book Thief, hit bookshelves in 2005. "When I started writing [Bridge of Clay], and this was 12 or 13 years ago, I just couldn't quite feel that it was right, and so I just kept trying and trying and trying and then I'd get halfway through and I couldn't keep going because I thought: 'This isn't it,'” Zusak told the Times.

Bridge of Clay follows a boy named Clay who is the only one of his four brothers willing to help their estranged father build a bridge on his property. The story "includes many more characters" than The Book Thief did, the Times explained, and "uses a completely different sort of narrative voice," which made it trickier for Zusak to write.

Though it's taken over a decade to write the book, Zusak said he actually had the idea for it 23 years ago, when he was 19. He told the Times that an intervention from his wife in June 2016 got the writing process back on track after years of stalling. "I could write this book until I die and it still won't be the way I want it," he said. "But I think now it's got the right heart." Mary Catalfamo

February 26, 2018

Monica Lewinsky is re-evaluating her relationship with former President Bill Clinton in the wake of the #MeToo movement, acknowledging in a Vanity Fair essay that her new understanding of power dynamics is making her question what she once believed was consent. "Now, at 44, I'm beginning (just beginning) to consider the implications of the power differentials that were so vast between a president and a White House intern," she writes.

Lewinsky believed as recently as 2014: "Sure, my boss took advantage of me, but I will always remain firm on this point: It was a consensual relationship. Any 'abuse' came in the aftermath, when I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position." Lewinsky explains now that in the wake of stories about Harvey Weinstein and other men abusing their positions of power over women: "I'm beginning to entertain the notion that in such a circumstance the idea of consent might well be rendered moot."

She goes on:

But it's also complicated. Very, very complicated. The dictionary definition of "consent"? "To give permission for something to happen." And yet what did the "something" mean in this instance, given the power dynamics, his position, and my age? Was the "something" just about crossing a line of sexual (and later emotional) intimacy? (An intimacy I wanted — with a 22-year-old's limited understanding of the consequences.) He was my boss. He was the most powerful man on the planet. He was 27 years my senior, with enough life experience to know better. He was, at the time, at the pinnacle of his career, while I was in my first job out of college. [Vanity Fair]

Lewinsky adds that her re-evaluation is ongoing, but "I know one thing for certain," she said: "Part of what has allowed me to shift is knowing I'm not alone anymore." Read her entire essay at Vanity Fair. Jeva Lange

February 16, 2018

The journalist who helped launch the #MeToo movement with his explosive exposé on the allegations against Harvey Weinstein has returned with a report about President Trump's alleged affairs. Writing for The New Yorker, Ronan Farrow claims that Trump began a sexual relationship with former Playboy Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal in 2006, less than two years after he married Melania Trump and a few months after the birth of their son, Barron.

While McDougal was restricted from speaking to The New Yorker about her story, having signed away the rights to talk about it to The National Enquirer in exchange for $150,000, McDougal's friend John Crawford supplied Farrow with McDougal's handwritten notes from the time, which detail the affair.

One note, apparently recalling McDougal's first date with Trump (dinner at a private Beverly Hills bungalow), read:

I was so nervous! I was into his intelligence + charm. Such a polite man. We talked for a couple hours — then, it was "ON"! We got naked + had sex. After, we got dressed (to leave) + he offered me money. I looked at him (+ felt sad) + said, 'No thanks — I'm not 'that girl.' I slept w/you because I like you — NOT for money' — He told me 'you are special.' [via The New Yorker]

Despite owning the rights to McDougal's story, The National Enquirer never published it, apparently in an effort to suppress allegations against Trump, who it endorsed for president. Read more of McDougal's allegations, which representatives of Trump have called "totally untrue," at The New Yorker. Jeva Lange

February 14, 2018
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The scandal around Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin's European travel is growing, with The Washington Post reporting the VA chief of staff "doctored an email and made false statements" in order to use taxpayer money to cover the overseas expenses of Shulkin's wife.

On Tuesday, USA Today reported that the VA inspector general was investigating Shulkin's trip to Denmark and London last July, which appeared to be unnecessarily long, at 10 days, and used taxpayer money to pay for Merle Bari to travel with her husband. Additionally, the couple reportedly spent half the trip sightseeing, ventures Shulkin allegedly improperly directed his staff to arrange.

The inspector general found that the VA chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, changed the language in an email "to make it appear that Shulkin was receiving an award from the Danish government — then used the award to justify paying for his wife's travel," The Washington Post reports. Bari's airfare ran more than $4,300 and the inspector general's office claimed that the three and a half days of meetings in Copenhagen and London totaled at least $122,334.

Bari herself reportedly made requests directly to a VA aide, including emails like: "Is there earlier flight from Copenhagen? Wimbledon tickets? High tea? Roman baths in [B]ath. Would want to do baths not just tour."

Shulkin is an Obama administration holdover, having formerly served as the undersecretary for health at the VA. Shulkin has also been accused of improperly accepting tickets for him and his wife to attend Wimbledon on the same trip, although he falsely claimed he bought them himself during a Washington Post Live event last year.

Shulkin dismissed the allegations against him in a statement: "It is outrageous that you would portray my wife and me as attempting to take advantage of the government," he said. Read more of the details about the trip at The Washington Post. Jeva Lange

February 12, 2018
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Stephen Bannon reportedly believes it wouldn't take Oprah 2020 for the beloved talk show host and lifestyle guru to unseat President Trump, Politico Playbook reports. In excerpts from the new paperback version of Josh Green's Devil's Bargain, Bannon reportedly discusses his own political ambitions, as well as his belief that Oprah Winfrey could be the one to get the ball rolling on Trump's impeachment.

According to Bannon, it would go something like this: Oprah would campaign for the Democrats, energizing a movement that would flip the House "and they'd race to impeach [Trump]," Politico Playbook writes. "The anti-patriarchy movement is going to undo 10,000 years of recorded history," Bannon is quoted as saying in Devil's Bargain. "You watch. The time has come. Women are gonna take charge of society. And they couldn't juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He is the patriarch."

Bannon additionally deemed Winfrey's stirring Golden Globes speech "a definitional moment in the culture" and said "it'll never be the same going forward."

While Oprah has made no comment about campaigning for Democrats, she has apparently ruled out her own run. "It's not something that interests me," she said last month. "I don't have the DNA for it." Jeva Lange

January 31, 2018
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Lawyer John Yoo — yes, that John Yoo, the author of the so-called "Torture Memo" that authorized the CIA in 2002 to use deeply controversial "enhanced interrogation techniques" overseas — thinks President Trump has gone too far.

In an op-ed published in The New York Times on Tuesday, Yoo claims that Trump is overstepping his bounds with the mysterious ousting of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and his blind support for the release of a Republican memo that purports to accuse FBI and Justice Department officials of abusing the FISA system to get court permission to surveil his campaign adviser. "By attacking Mr. McCabe and by continuing to attack the FBI, Mr. Trump has clouded an overdue changing of the guard and has provoked resistance to reform efforts," Yoo writes. "Democrats can now fairly characterize his actions as politically motivated."

While Yoo agrees that there needs to be a cleanup in the intelligence community, he argues the president's "impulse to transform every activity of government into a partisan conflict undermines the difficult task." Yoo adds that the aforementioned episodes with McCabe and the memo "reveal a shortcoming in Mr. Trump's understanding of the presidency. He has the constitutional power to push out Mr. McCabe and to release the [House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin] Nunes memo. Yet doing so is a serious political misuse of that power."

Take it from the guy accused by some of justifying war crimes. Read Yoo's full op-ed at The New York Times. Jeva Lange

January 10, 2018

Tonya Harding — now Tonya Price — is best known for her professional skating career and the controversy that followed her ex-husband and bodyguard hiring an assailant to attempt to break Nancy Kerrigan's leg ahead of the 1994 Olympics. Speaking to The New York Times about the new biographical film I, Tonya, though, Price revealed she also has another skill that she unexpectedly excels in: archery.

[Harding] and [Joe Price, her husband] would spend hours hunting together, just as she used to do with her beloved father — Mr. Price with a muzzleloader and Ms. Harding with a bow and arrow because she wanted "to give the animal a 50-50 chance to make it interesting and fair" (and also because felons aren't technically supposed to possess guns in Washington State). Do you know how good of an archer she is? She says she has successfully done no fewer than eight Robin Hoods — shooting an arrow that splits another arrow, which itself was already in a bull's-eye, 30 yards away — and that's nothing compared to her fishing skills. (But she doesn't want to elaborate. "Some people," she said. "If you eat a carrot you're killing it.") [The New York Times]

Times writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner noted that during the interview "a lot" of what Price told her "wasn't true." But Price wanted to clear up disinformation of her own. Price said one of the few details she quibbles with in I, Tonya is that the way the film is edited makes it "look as though she hunted for rabbits and that is how she got her fur coat. Not true. She bought that coat." Read the full profile at The New York Times. Jeva Lange

January 9, 2018
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The British spy who compiled a controversial and unverified dossier that alleges Russia possesses compromising information about then-candidate Donald Trump apparently went to the FBI out of fears that Trump "was being blackmailed." The explosive details are just some what have emerged from the newly public transcript of Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was released by ranking Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Tuesday. Fusion GPS is famously behind a controversial dossier compiled by British spy Christopher Steele, who was hired by Simpson.

Simpson told the Senate in his testimony about Steele's fears that Trump was being blackmailed. "[T]he whole problem of compromise of Western businessmen and politicians by the Russians is an essential part of — it's like disinformation, it's something they worry about a lot and deal with a lot and are trained to respond to," Simpson said. "So, you know, a trained intelligence officer can spot disinformation that you or I might not recognize, and certainly that was Chris' skill, and he honed in on this issue of blackmail as being a significant national security issue."

Simpson added that the FBI apparently "believed Chris' information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump organization." A person in Fusion GPS's orbit, though, told NBC that was a mischaracterization of an Australian diplomat's tip that Russia has dirt on Hillary Clinton, as had been shared with him by George Papadopoulous "during a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016," The New York Times reports. Read the full transcript here. Jeva Lange

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