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President Trump’s approval rating continues to decline, though voters haven’t given the orb enough time to fully integrate into the president’s neural pathways and firmly settle into its new host body — believe us, you’ll absolutely love the guy then. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke met with a notorious internet troll — and in addition to meeting the president, he also met with Chuck Johnson (hey oooh!). And Fox News retracted its Seth Rich story, upgrading its journalistic reputation from “existential threat to civil society” to a mere “cancer on the First Amendment.” Well done, gang. This is HUFFPOST HILL for Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017:

MORE DAMNING TESTIMONY AGAINST TRUMP CAMPAIGN - Maybe Trump will clarify this matter by blurting something out during a photo op with the Pope. That is the new fourth estate. The president blurting out things. Greg Miller: “The CIA alerted the FBI to a troubling pattern of contacts between Russian officials and associates of the Trump campaign last year, former agency director John Brennan testified on Tuesday, shedding new light on the origin of a criminal probe that now reaches into the White House. In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Brennan said he became increasingly concerned that Trump associates were being manipulated by Russian intelligence services as part of a broader covert influence campaign that sought to disrupt the election and deliver the presidency to Trump. ‘I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons,’ Brennan said, adding that he did not see proof of collusion before he left office on January 20, but ‘felt as though the FBI investigation was certainly well-founded and needed to look into those issues.’” [WaPo]

TRUMP BUDGET AS TERRIBLE AS PROMISED - Remember: the president’s budget is simply a wish list of how he’d like to kill your grandmother. That’s all. Don’t get too worked up.  Arthur Delaney: “President Donald Trump wants Congress to cut food stamps and other anti-poverty programs in order to pay for more military spending and a border wall, according to a budget proposal the White House will formally unveil on Tuesday. Trump’s budget for fiscal 2018, a summary of which the administration released late Monday, would plow the savings from welfare cuts into higher military spending and deficit reduction…. The budget cuts Social Security Disability Insurance by about 4 percent. Mulvaney argued that doing so doesn’t violate Trump’s Social Security campaign pledge because most people only think of retirement insurance when they think of Social Security. The proposal doesn’t touch retirement insurance, but Social Security advocates say Trump nevertheless broke his promise.” [HuffPost]

Congress reacted Trump’s budget like it was printed on a filthy, stinky diaper. “President Donald Trump’s first budget didn’t exactly get rave reviews, even from Republicans, as word of its cuts spread on Capitol Hill Tuesday.” [HuffPost’s Michael McAuliff and Laura Barrón-López]

@W7VOA: “Donald Trump united the entire Muslim world in a way that it really hasn’t been in many years,” said sr. admin. official on Air Force One.

WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE RICH PEOPLE! The director of the White House Office of Management and Budget published Ayn Rand fanfic in the form of an op-ed today. Mick Mulvaney: “For years, we’ve focused on how we can help Americans receive taxpayer-funded assistance. Under President Trump’s leadership, we’re now looking at how we can respect both those who require assistance and the taxpayers who fund that support. For the first time in a long time, we’re putting taxpayers first. Taking money from someone without an intention to pay it back is not debt. It is theft. This budget makes it clear that we will reverse this larceny.” [Miami Herald]

FOX PULLS SETH RICH STORY - Despite the fact that the network retracted the story, Sean Hannity remains tragically, er... tracted. Travis Waldron: “A week after publishing a thinly sourced, conspiracy-peddling article that linked slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich to Wikileaks, Fox News has issued a retraction and removed the story from its website. The network’s statement, however, did not mention Fox’s television programming, where prominent commentator Sean Hannity has repeatedly pushed the conspiracy theory since the story published. Hannity was still peddling the theory on Twitter just before the retraction was published, urging his followers to read a post from hacker Kim Dotcom that claimed Rich had definitive links to WikiLeaks. Earlier this week, CNN reported that Hannity had invited Kim Dotcom on his show…. Hannity isn’t the only Fox television commentator to spread the Rich conspiracy theory since the story published online. The ‘Fox and Friends’ morning show has pushed the story as well, and Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich also raised it during an appearance on the network over the weekend.” [HuffPost]

FIIIIIIIINE, PRESIDENT AGREES TO MEET POPE - Erik Wasson, Steven T. Dennis and John McCormick: “No two world leaders would seem to have less in common. They’ll meet face to face at the Vatican for the first time on Wednesday, at Trump’s request…. Trump, a Presbyterian, was in no hurry to meet the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, according to a senior Vatican official who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue. The White House reached out to the Vatican only at the end of April, the official said, noting that leaders usually schedule meetings with the pope two months or more in advance…. The two leaders are expected to discuss issues including global poverty, immigration and climate change on which there will be ‘legitimate differences,’ the Vatican official said.” [Bloomberg]

Haircut: James Comey (h/t Christopher J. Hale), Nick Baumann (h/t Nick Baumann).

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FEC MEMBER CALLS FOR GREATER TRUMP INVESTIGATION - Kenneth P. Vogel: “A member of the Federal Election Commission is calling on the agency to investigate whether Russian agents paid for Facebook ads to spread damaging stories about Hillary Clinton ahead of last fall’s presidential election. ‘I think there is potential there for finding a violation, but I don’t want to suggest that I have prejudged anything that could potentially come before me,’ said FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democratic appointee to the commission. Her assertion comes as agency staff is already moving to investigate a related complaint filed in December by a pair of watchdog groups against President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government, according to two sources familiar with the agency’s handling of the complaint. They said that, if the investigation proceeds apace, agency staff could be expected to incorporate the recent revelations about Facebook ads into their fact-finding.” [Politico]

TRUMP UNPOPULAR - Ariel Edwards-Levy and Grace Sparks: “President Donald Trump’s average approval rating just reached a new low, according to HuffPost Pollster’s aggregation of publicly available surveys. Trump’s ratings took a noticeable dip in March after Republicans failed to pass a bill repealing the Affordable Care Act. They stabilized in the low 40s for much of April. In the past month, however, his ratings have taken a more significant downturn. His average approval rating stands at just below 40 percent as of Tuesday afternoon, with his disapproval rating at nearly 56 percent…. Individual pollsters who’ve tracked Trump’s ratings this month have measured strikingly similar downward shifts. Of the six pollsters who’ve released multiple surveys taken in May, five found Trump’s net approval rating ― the difference between his ‘approve’ and ‘disapprove’ numbers ― falling by between 7 and 9 points, as of Monday evening. The sixth, the Ipsos/Reuters tracking poll, shows him down by 11.” [HuffPost]

Impeachment is so yesterday. The 25th Amendment so fresh.

ZINKE MET WITH CONSPIRACY TROLL - If only that were the name of some kind of endangered mole-rat the department were trying to protect. Alas. Chris D’Angelo: “Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke held a video call in April with an infamous right-wing internet troll and a virtual reality entrepreneur to discuss the Trump administration’s plans to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Zinke’s half-hour call with Charles ‘Chuck’ Johnson, the CEO and founder of Gotnews.com, and Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus VR, occurred just after lunch on April 12, according to a recently published log of Zinke’s scheduled meetings last month. The call’s listed topic of discussion: ‘Border Wall building plans.’ … A conservative journalist with serious credibility issues, Johnson is perhaps best known for being banned from Twitter in 2015 after asking for donations to help him ‘take out’ civil rights activist DeRay McKesson.” [HuffPost]

Oh: The wife of President Trump’s top anti-terror adviser, Sebastian Gorka, has been hired as a temporary adviser to the Department of Homeland Security’s chief of staff, according to documents obtained by a watchdog group. Katherine Gorka will serve as a temporary adviser for 120 days, with the possibility of an extension, according to the American Oversight group…. Gorka’s husband has taken heat...over Gorka’s alleged ties to Hungarian far-right organizations with ties to the Nazis.” [The Hill’s John Bowden]

CONGRATULATIONS TO MODERATE REPUBLICANISM - What’s it like being dead? Lindsey McPherson: “New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur has stepped down as co-chair of the moderate Republican Tuesday Group. ‘I’ve been thinking about it since the day we voted on health care,’ MacArthur told reporters Tuesday, describing divisions in the group. ‘There are people that have bristled with me engaging with the Freedom Caucus,’ he said. ‘I’m going to do that again. That’s who I am. I’m going to work with everyone.’ Still, MacArthur said he did not feel pressure to resign as the backlash against him over the health care negotiations ‘had settled down somewhat.’ Rather, he said he is stepping down because he thinks it’s the right thing to do.” [Roll Call]

ICYMI: INTERIOR CENSORING CLIMATE FINDINGS - Really outstanding stuff over at Interior these days. Dino Grandoni: “On Thursday, a group of scientists, including three working for the U.S. Geological Survey, published a paper that highlighted the link between sea-level rise and global climate change, arguing that previously studies may have underestimated the risk flooding poses to coastal communities. However, three of the study’s authors say the Department of Interior, under which USGS is housed, deleted a line from the news release on the study that discussed the role climate change played in raising Earth’s oceans.” [WaPo]

SHERIFF CLARKE MAY NOT GET ADMINISTRATION JOB AMID PLAGIARISM REPORT -  Well, Melania Trump did plagiarize that Michelle Obama speech and she was still named first lady, so...how about that for a take? Nathan McDermott and Andrew Kaczynski: “Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke said this week that a CNN KFile report on plagiarism in his master’s thesis could impact the Trump administration’s decision to hire him for a role at the Department of Homeland Security. A CNN KFile review of Clarke’s 2013 master’s thesis found 47 examples in which Clarke used passages from sources and credited them with a footnote, without using quotation marks indicating that he took the language verbatim. In several instances, Clarke copied entire sentences while changing or replacing only one or two words. Clarke has said that he had accepted an appointment as an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security, but a DHS spokesperson said last week that no announcement of his appointment had been made.” [CNN]

BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR - Here’s a very bad dog.

AL FRANKEN REALLY, REALLY HATES TED CRUZ - Reminder that this guy also described the Texas senator as “the love child of Joe McCarthy and Dracula.” Eliot Nelson: “Franken…has been cracking wise about about one of his least favorite colleagues, Ted Cruz (R-Texas), while promoting his sarcastically titled new book, Al Franken: Giant of the Senate. ‘You have to understand that I like Ted Cruz probably more than my colleagues like Ted Cruz,’ Franken told USA Today’s Susan Page, repeating a line from his book, ‘and I hate Ted Cruz.’ He’s a special guy,’ the senator added.” [HuffPost]


- The people from those “regular people” Chevy ads speak out: “When that wall opened, it was the loudest, most awkward and slow-moving thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.”  

- Vimeo channel features videos of national putt-putt championships dating back decades.

- The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” hasn’t left the U.K. charts since 2004.


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