August 12, 2014
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Early Tuesday, Russia said it has sent a convoy of about 280 trucks carrying food, medicine, and other supplies toward the Ukraine border. The destination is the Ukrainian city of Luhansk, controlled by pro-Russia separatists and under siege by Ukrainian troops, and the convoy is at least theoretically part of a humanitarian mission overseen by the Red Cross. NATO isn't buying it, and Kiev is nervous.

On Monday, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso called Russian President Vladimir Putin and "warned against any unilateral military actions in Ukraine, under any pretext, including humanitarian," the EU said. The Kremlin gave its side of the conversation, in which Putin had "focused attention on the catastrophic consequences of the military operation" by Ukraine and pointedly "noted that the Russian side, in cooperation with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, is sending a humanitarian convoy to Ukraine."

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko agreed to a Red Cross mission, but only if it involved the European Union as well as Russia. The ICRC said Monday that "the practical details of this operation need to be clarified before this initiative can move forward."

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Reuters on Monday that he judged there to be "a high probability" that Russia will stage a military intervention, noting as Ukraine gets closer and closer to taking control of Donetsk and Luhansk, Russia's state-run media has increasingly warned about the humanitarian crisis in the primarily Russian-speaking Ukrainian cities. "We see the Russians developing the narrative and the pretext for such an operation under the guise of a humanitarian operation, and we see a military build-up that could be used to conduct such illegal military operations in Ukraine," Rasmussen added.

NATO has estimated that Russia has about 20,000 troops and ample heavy weaponry amassed at the Russia-Urkaine border, primed to invade. On Monday, Ukraine said there are about 45,000 Russia troops, plus 160 tanks, 1,360 armored vehicles, 390 artillery systems, up to 150 truck-mounted missile launchers, 192 fighter jets, and 137 attack helicopters. Western intelligence hasn't verified those numbers. Peter Weber

3:30 p.m. ET

Saudi Arabia will allow women to drive beginning in June of next year, the kingdom announced Tuesday. The extremely conservative country, which is ruled according to Shariah law, has justified its ban on religious grounds for years.

To get around, Saudi women have relied on private cabs or Uber, which can get costly and discourage them from taking a job that requires expensive travel to get to work, The New York Times reports.

The kingdom's decision comes as Saudi Arabia is trying to change its reputation abroad, but making the switch will not be easy: "The kingdom has no infrastructure for women to learn to drive or to obtain drivers licenses," The New York Times writes. "The police will need to be trained to interact with women in a way that they rarely do in a society where men and women who are not related rarely interact." Jeva Lange

3:14 p.m. ET

President Trump's former adviser and longtime friend Roger Stone characterized his conversations with a Russian government-linked hacker as being "limited" and "benign" after appearing before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reports.

As part of his defense, Stone also released screenshots of his August and September 2016 conversations with the entity Guccifer 2.0, an alias that took credit for hacking the Democratic National Committee. U.S. officials have linked Guccifer 2.0's materials to Russian government hackers. In August 2016, Stone argued for Breitbart News that Guccifer 2.0 acted alone and was not working with the Russian government.

[…] Mr. Stone sent a private Twitter message to the Guccifer 2.0 account, saying he was "delighted" the entity was back on Twitter, according to the material he released. Twitter had briefly suspended the account.

"F--- the state and their MSM lackeys," Mr. Stone added, using a common disparaging term for the mainstream media.

According to Mr. Stone's release, Guccifer 2.0 responded: "thank u for writing back, and thank u for an article about me!!!" The entity then asked if Mr. Stone found anything interesting in the documents posted — a question to which Mr. Stone’s release suggests he didn’t reply. [The Wall Street Journal ]

The screenshots indicate that Guccifer 2.0 attempted several more times to talk to Stone although Stone offered limited replies.

"[Stone's] significance starts and ends with the question as to whether he worked with Russians while they were interfering in our election," Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) told Mother Jones on Monday before the hearing. "He demonstrated at least a willingness to work with the Russians. Was this just willingness or was this an active working relationship? That is still unresolved." Jeva Lange

2:47 p.m. ET

Iraqi Kurds have voted in favor of a referendum for their independence, the Kurdish region's president, Masoud Barzani, announced Tuesday.

Countries in the region viewed the Kurdish vote with hostility. Iraq was opposed to the vote because a redrawing of its borders to accommodate Kurdistan would mean the loss of its oil-rich northern territory. In Iran and Turkey, "leaders feared the move would embolden their own Kurdish populations," The Associated Press reports.

Barzani declared Kurdistan would be "diverse and democratic," Al-Hayat's Joy Karam reports. Barzani said Sunday, ahead of the vote, that "we are ready to pay any price for our independence."

"We will take measures to safeguard the nation's unity and protect all Iraqis," Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned in response.

The Kurds have been a major regional ally for the United States in the fight against the Islamic State, although America opposed their vote, citing the threat of "instability and discord." In fighting ISIS, though, Kurdish forces captured territory they claim they have a right to, including northwestern Iraq and the Iranian border to the east, AP adds.

"I feel so great and happy. I feel we'll be free," said one Kurd, Suad Pirot of Kirkuk, after voting on Monday. "Nobody will rule us. We will be independent." Jeva Lange

2:31 p.m. ET

Senate Republicans decided Tuesday that they will not vote on their health-care bill after efforts to garner support for the legislation fell short, Politico reports.

The bill, named for co-sponsors Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), appeared doomed on Monday when moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined conservative Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in opposition. With three Republicans as solid no votes, the GOP can't muster the 50 votes it would need to pass the proposal with the help of Vice President Mike Pence as a tie-breaking vote. Republicans have a Sept. 30 deadline for passing a health-care bill with only 50 votes, with no Democrats.

In a speech Tuesday, Graham said he has not given up on the bill. "We're coming back to [health care] after taxes," he said. Watch below. Jeva Lange

1:56 p.m. ET

North Korean government officials have been reaching out to Republican analysts in Washington to try to get a better read on what is going on in President Trump's head, The Washington Post reports. "My own guess is that they are somewhat puzzled as to the direction in which the U.S. is going, so they're trying to open up channels to take the pulse in Washington," former State Department official Evans Revere told the Post. "They haven't seen the U.S. act like this before."

Bruce Klingner, a North Korea expert who is now with the Heritage Foundation, said that Pyongyang reached out to him but he declined their invitation. Still, Klingner observed the country is "on a new binge of reaching out to American scholars and ex-officials."

At a recent meeting at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy in Switzerland, North Koreans attendees additionally "displayed an 'encyclopedic' knowledge of Trump's tweets, to the extent that they were able to quote them back to the Americans present." But as anyone who has tried to parse Trump's tweets and actions knows, just following the president on Twitter doesn't necessarily give any insight into what he might say or do next.

Reflecting North Korean officials' confusion are the questions they're bringing to Americans: "Why, for instance, are Trump's top officials, notably Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, directly contradicting the president so often?" The Washington Post writes as one example. Read the full report at the Post. Jeva Lange

12:35 p.m. ET

The FBI arrested assistant basketball coaches at four NCAA Division I universities — Arizona, Oklahoma State, Southern California, and Auburn — overnight on charges of taking cash bribes "to deliver star athletes to a financial adviser or an agent," NBC News reports. Six other people were also charged, including a senior executive at Adidas, managers, and financial advisers.

One of the coaches, Chuck Person of Auburn University, played for 13 years in the NBA. Person stands accused of accepting approximately $50,000 "in return for his agreeing to direct certain of the school's players to [a particular] adviser when they entered the NBA," The New York Times reports. The adviser, who is unnamed in the complaint, is reportedly cooperating with the government.

Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State, Emanuel Richardson of Arizona, and Tony Bland of USC are also accused of accepting money to funnel certain players to specific agents. "Many … coaches have enormous influence over the student-athletes who play for them, in particular with respect to guiding those student-athletes through the process of selecting agents and other advisers when they prepare to leave college and enter the NBA," the complaint said, as reported by ESPN. "The investigation has revealed several instances in which coaches have exercised that influence by steering players and their families to retain particular advisers, not because of the merits of those advisers, but because the coaches were being bribed by the advisers to do so."

Additionally, Adidas' head of global sports marketing, James Gatto, stands accused of paying $100,000 to a family to send their son to what details indicate was the University of Louisville. The indictment "says contemporary news accounts described [the player's] college decision, announced this past June, as a surprise" and that "this summer, Louisville signed a 10-year, $160 million apparel contract with Adidas," the Times writes. Jeva Lange

11:49 a.m. ET
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The GOP plans to raise the lowest individual tax rate from 10 percent to 12 percent while dropping the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans from 39.6 percent to 35 percent, Axios reports, based on conversations with five senior Republicans.

The White House intends to sell the plan as a "tax cut" for the middle class by doubling the standard deduction, which will leave many people paying no taxes: "The standard deduction would almost double to $12,000 for a single filer and $24,000 for married couples, meaning Trump can accurately argue that many more low-income earners would pay no tax under his plan," Axios writes. The seven tax brackets would be collapsed down to three.

"We have a tax plan that is totally finalized," Trump boasted Sunday. "I think it'll be terrific. I think it's going to go through." While Trump will introduce the proposal in Indiana on Wednesday, he is expected to leave details intentionally vague so congressional tax-writing committees have the flexibility to negotiate and maneuver. Read the full scoop at Axios. Jeva Lange

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