WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump blasted “disgraceful” social media companies for “terrible bias” and accused them without evidence of manipulating his content during a summit at the White House on Thursday, touting his massive online following and praising conspiracy theorists and far-right agitators alike.
“You have a lot of power and you have to use it wisely,” Trump said to the several hundred conservative digital and social media professionals in attendance, before celebrating their work extensively.
“You communicate with our citizens without going through the fake news filter,” the tweeter-in-chief said. “The crap you think of is unbelievable.”
The president spoke to the “historic” nature of the gathering, taking repeated shots at the mainstream press and praising the people in the room who challenge “the media gatekeepers.”
In recent years, complaints from conservatives of unfair treatment by major tech companies have grown from murmurs into a cacophony of complaints that now includes the president and other major Republican politicians. Some have threatened to put forward legislation on the topic, though none has yet become a serious threat to the companies.
Several of the social media personalities who attended Thursday’s event are known for spreading false information or trafficking in harassment, which some disinformation researchers call “incredibly toxic.”
Hours before the meeting, the Southern Poverty Law Center called the meetup “a gathering of groups and individuals who have no business at the White House,” saying the invite list included “conspiracy theorists and extremists.”
“For years we’ve watched social media serve as a gateway to radicalization and, far too often, real-life violence. Bringing these groups together is beyond irresponsible; it is essentially conducting a hate summit at the White House,” a statement from the SPLC reads.
Attendees included right-wing personalities Ali Alexander, who had pushed the false conspiracy theory that the California-born Sen. Kamala Harris was not an “American black,” Jim Hoft, from the conspiracy website Gateway Pundit, and YouTube personality Tim Pool, who has pushed the false conspiracy theory that murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich leaked hacked emails to WikiLeaks.
Trump also took several minutes to congratulate White House social media director Dan Scavino, who has been a part of his inner circle since before the administration.
“I think Hillary [Clinton] had 28 people and I had Dan. Right? I had my Dan,” Trump said with a laugh.
Coincidentally, Twitter was down for about 45 minutes before the event started. As if on cue, the site was back up and running mere moments before Trump took the stage in the East Room.
The White House did not distribute a full list of participants ahead of the event but large social media companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Google said they were not invited to attend. After the session wrapped, officials still declined to provide a complete list of attendees.
The president hinted at why in a tweet Thursday morning, writing: “A big subject today at the White House Social Media Summit will be the tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination and suppression practiced by certain companies. We will not let them get away with it much longer.”
Twitter and Facebook declined to comment.
Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale, who spearheaded the president’s all-important 2016 digital strategy, also joined the event. Parscale is still heavily involved in this area for 2020, with more responsibility and influence. He and the president speak on an almost daily basis about campaign matters and beyond. Presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is also a key conduit among Parscale, the campaign and the White House.
Cabinet officials and lawmakers also attended the summit, including Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who spoke briefly at the president’s invitation. Hawley said “social media giants would love to shut us down” and urged them to “stop discriminating against conservatives.”
Without offering many specifics, Trump said he was inviting big tech firms to the White House in the coming weeks for a “big meeting” and a “real conversation.”
Apart from the purported topic of Thursday’s meeting, the president spent considerable time on other subjects, including his time hosting “The Apprentice” and taking swipes at Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., whom he referred to us “Pocahontas.”
Trump also defended several of his most well-known typos and spelling errors, blaming his digits and arguing he’s “actually a good speller” but “the fingers aren’t as good as the brain.”
Organizers printed and displayed giant versions of some of the president’s tweets for the event, including a reference to this head-scratcher from 2018: “Who can figure out the true meaning of “covfefe” ??? Enjoy!”
After Trump delivered his prepared remarks, radio show host Sebastian Gorka asked the first question in a Q&A session with summit attendees. Midway through the first question, reporters were escorted out of the room, and the livestream on the White House’s website faded out.
After the president made brief remarks on abandoning his call for a citizenship question on the 2020 census, a confrontation erupted in the Rose Garden between several of the social media summit attendees and a few White House press corps members. Gorka and Trump supporter Joy Villa were seen shouting “fake news” at the assembled reporters and a brief screaming match ensued. Secret Service officers came up to the people involved and asked them to calm down before Gorka and Villa eventually stepped away and left the area.
Nadler says Mueller should ignore DOJ ‘cover-up’ efforts on testimony
House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said on Tuesday that former special counsel Robert Mueller should ignore Justice Department attempts to stifle his highly anticipated congressional testimony, referring to their efforts as “part of a cover-up.”
On Monday, Associate Deputy Attorney General Bradley Weinscheimer wrote a letter instructing Mueller not to provide any testimony regarding the redacted portions of his report. Mueller had already said he would not go beyond the content contained within his more than 440-page report during his public testimony.
The letter also stated that “any testimony must remain within the boundaries of your public report because matters within the scope of your investigation were covered by executive privilege.”
Nadler told CNN Tuesday that he didn’t believe that letter was an impediment to Mueller’s testimony, adding that the instruction to do so is “a part of the cover-up of the administration to keep information away from the American people.”
“But I think it’s not going to have a real impact,” he said.
Asked if Mueller must comply with the letter, Nadler said the former special counsel does not.
“He doesn’t work for them,” Nadler said. “And that letter asks things that are beyond the power of the agency to ask even if he still worked there.”
Mueller will testify Wednesday in separate sessions before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. In May, Mueller said if he were to testify before Congress that “testimony from this office would not go beyond our report.”
“We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself,” he added. “The report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.”
A spokesman for Mueller, Jim Popkin, told NBC News on Monday that the former special counsel will give a brief opening statement before offering the entire report as his full statement for the record.
A Democratic House Intelligence Committee aide told NBC News last week that Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., does not “subscribe” to the belief that Mueller is required to “stay within the four corners” of the report.
But a Democratic House Judiciary aide also told NBC News last week that even if Mueller doesn’t go beyond the report, “we think that limitation … can be worked through because there really is such strong language throughout the report even if they didn’t bring it all together in a way that connects it all, to the to the ultimate conclusion.”
Jeremy Corbyn says Boris Johnson ‘hasn’t won support of our country’ and demands election
Doctors find differences in brains of U.S. diplomats who alleged mystery attacks in Cuba
WASHINGTON — A group of U.S. government workers potentially exposed to unexplained phenomena in Cuba have less white matter in their brains and less connectivity in the areas that control vision and hearing than similar healthy people, doctors have found.
The findings from University of Pennsylvania researchers are the most specific to date about the neurological condition of the U.S. diplomats, spies and their families who reported strange sounds and sensations while serving in Havana between 2016 and 2018.
Yet while doctors found “significant differences” in their brains compared to a control group, they couldn’t say whether they were caused by whatever may have happened in Cuba, nor whether those differences account for the Americans’ symptoms.
Watch Josh Lederman on Andrea Mitchell Reports today for more
The medical findings, revealed Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, come as U.S. national security officials tell NBC News that more than two years into the mystery, the government still has not determined who or what is responsible for what transpired in Havana.
The FBI, enlisted in 2017 to investigate what the U.S. has called “targeted attacks,” paid multiple trips to Havana but has exhausted its leads in the case, individuals briefed on the investigation say. While the investigation hasn’t been formally closed, no external energy source in Cuba has yet been identified that could have caused the injuries, they said. The FBI declined to comment.
Although the Trump administration has not retreated from its assertions that its workers in Cuba were attacked, officials at the FBI, the CIA and the State Department are also examining the possibility that mass psychogenic illness, or psychosomatic symptoms that spread through a community, may be to blame in at least some of the cases, officials said.
The Cuban Embassy in Washington didn’t respond to a request for comment. But Dr. Mitchell Joseph Valdés-Sosa, the Cuban Neuroscience Center chief who has been investigating the U.S. claims, said there were major “causes for concern” in the study’s methodology, including the makeup of the control group and assertions about brain changes that he said could have resulted from “many factors, including psychological states.”
“The most worrisome aspect is the attempt to link these findings with an unspecified ‘directional phenomenon,'” Valdés-Sosa said. “The research in this area has been cloaked in secrecy, and driven by cold war paranoia.”
Twenty-six Americans who served in Cuba were “medically confirmed” by the State Department to have been affected. The Penn study included most of those workers, their relatives who lived with them and other U.S. workers referred to Penn for potential exposure, bringing the total to 40.
Using a battery of advanced MRIs, researchers created a detailed map of their brains, including the pathways and connections that let parts of the brain communicate with one another. It takes a computer more than 24 hours to process the data and create the maps, officials tell NBC News. The results from all individuals in the Cuba group were combined, then custom software was used to compare those results to a map made from MRIs of 48 individuals of similar age and ethnicity.
Doctors found that in measuring white matter — nerve fibers that form the brain’s communications network — the Cuba patients had a mean volume that was 27 cubic centimeters smaller than the control patients. Overall, they had similar volumes of grey matter — rich with brain cells that process information — but in some regions of the brain, the Cuba patients had more grey matter.
Advanced neuroimaging that tracks how water molecules travel through the brain found decreased connectivity in the networks related to seeing and hearing, which tracks with many of the symptoms reported, but not in the networks that handle higher-level thinking processes. Still, doctors were unable to draw a clear connection between the findings and the patients’ symptoms, which also included problems with balance, sleep and memory.
NBC News Medical Correspondent Dr. John Torres said the small sample size and high sensitivity of the brain scans could have produced results that appear unusual but aren’t clinically significant.
“Even though, as a group, these government personnel have changes to parts of their brains seen on MRI images, those changes cannot be tied directly to what they report happened in Cuba,” Dr. Torres said.
Starting in late 2016, U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers in Cuba started reporting strange incidents that the Penn study describes as “potential exposure to uncharacterized directional phenomena” of unknown origins, “manifesting as pressure, vibration or sound.” Some reported ear-piercing sounds in their homes at night that would suddenly disappear when they moved just a few feet away.
The mysterious noises initially led investigators to suspect a sonic weapon, but investigators ruled out the possibility sound waves could have caused the damage. Officials have explored other possibilities such as a microwave or other electromagnetic energy source, as well as potential environmental causes and psychosomatic illness.
Because of how much is still unknown about the brain’s inner workings, it’s difficult to say whether any of those theories could neatly explain the specific changes to brain matter volume and connectivity identified by the MRI study, medical experts said.
The bizarre saga has inflicted significant damage on a U.S.-Cuba relationship that was only beginning to warm in recent years following half a century of enmity.
After declaring that its diplomats had been attacked, the United States pulled most of its workers out of Cuba and warned all Americans not to travel there. Those ties have been further weakened by the Trump administration’s crackdown on Cuba and re-imposition of sanctions and travel restrictions that had been eased during the Obama administration.
In addition to Penn’s study, the National Institutes of Health is conducting its own “brain injury research study” involving the Cuba patients with help from Energy Department supercomputers and national laboratories capable of processing massive amounts of neurological data. The Defense Department has also been engaged to look into technologies that could have been used to harm the Americans, NBC News has reported.
The State Department said it was aware of the new study from Penn doctors and “welcomes the medical community’s discussion on this incredibly complex issue.”
“The department’s top priority remains the safety, security and well-being of its staff,” the State Department said in a statement.
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