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July 16, 2014

Not surprisingly, the internet is one of the biggest tools for proponents of net neutrality, the idea that all internet content should be available to all internet users without favoritism. In June, John Oliver made a compelling case for net neutrality's importance — and his call to contact the Federal Communications Commission, arbiter of net neutrality in the U.S., crashed the FCC's website.

Adam Conover and Emily Axford at College Humor decided to try a similar tactic, with this slightly NSFW video call to arms. There is pixelated-out nudity and some mildly salty language, but Adam and Emily's video differs from Oliver's in other ways, such as directing users to a website run by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, not the FCC. If you care about the issue and don't want to get on the EFF's mailing list, you can still visit FCC.gov/comments (Proceeding 14-28) and leave a comment there. The public comment period ends July 18. --Peter Weber

8:06 a.m. ET
Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, might have faced a blackmail attempt from a Ukrainian parliamentarian last summer, Politico reports. The purported evidence comes in the form of hacked communications from Manafort's daughter's iPhone, which includes a text from Ukrainian Serhiy Leshchenko demanding to reach Manafort and threatening the release of damaging information:

Attached to the text is a note to Paul Manafort referring to "bulletproof" evidence related to Manafort's financial arrangement with Ukraine's former president, the pro-Russian strongman Viktor Yanukovych, as well as an alleged 2012 meeting between Trump and a close Yanukovych associate named Serhiy Tulub.

"Considering all the facts and evidence that are in my possession, and before possible decision whether to pass this to [the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine] or FBI I would like to get your opinion on this and maybe your way to work things out that will persuade me to do otherwise," reads the note. It is signed "Sergii" — an alternative transliteration of Leshchenko's given name — and it urges Manafort to respond to an email address that reporters have used to reach Leshchenko. [Politico]

Leshchenko denied that the texts were from him, telling Politico: "I've never written any emails or messages to … Manafort or his family." Manafort denied brokering the meeting beween Trump and Tulub but confirmed the texts to his daughter are real and said that he had also received texts to his own phone from the same address. A White House official raised questions about the timeline, pointing out that Trump had not partnered with Manafort before the 2016 presidential campaign, muddling the allegation that he had brokered a 2012 meeting between Trump and Tulub.

The hacked text messages were published by a hacktivist collective apparently as an anti-Trump move, although the group "seems like randos, not the nation states we usually track," a cybersecurity analyst noted.

In August, The New York Times published documents from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine that indicated $12.7 million in cash payments was set aside for Manafort, with Leshchenko serving as a key source for bringing the documents to light. Manafort denied the documents are real: "I find it coincidental that I got these texts, and then he released these phony journals," Manafort said. Jeva Lange

7:57 a.m. ET

On Wednesday night, the eight leading candidates for Democratic National Committee chair gathered for a CNN debate, days before Democratic officials and activists make their choice at the end of a three-day party meeting in Atlanta that begins Thursday. The candidates, led by former Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), aimed most of their fire at President Trump, though they disagreed on how trenchantly to oppose him, as well as how to heal Democratic divisions lingering from the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders primary fight last year.

Trump's actions already "legitimately raise the question of impeachment," Ellison said, arguing that the president has already violated the Constitution. Perez said Trump "wants to turn the clock back, and the Democratic Party needs to take the fight to Donald Trump," leading with Democratic values and convictions. Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said Trump is a "computer virus in the American political system" that Democrats have to fight, "but we can't let him dominate our imagination, because it's our values and our candidates that matter." You can watch a 90-second recap of the debate below.

This is the first heavily contested race for DNC chair in recent history — the job usually involves raising money and supporting candidates behind the scenes. But Democrats have faced years of losses in Congress, state legislatures, and statehouses, and the party is without a clear leader now that Barack Obama is out of office. Perez is the early frontrunner, with about 205 of the 447 total votes, while Ellison has about 153 votes, independent Democratic strategists tell The Associated Press, though Ellison's spokesman said that count is "totally inaccurate" and Ellison is "incredibly confident" of his chances. Jaime Harrison, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, has 27 votes, while Buttigieg and Idaho Democratic Party chief Sally Boynton Brown have fewer than 20 votes combined, per AP's tally. Peter Weber

7:24 a.m. ET

Kellyanne Conway called reports that she has been "sidelined" from television somebody's attempt to "start trouble" when she appeared on Fox News' Hannity on Wednesday night.

"I don't think I have to explain myself if I'm not going on TV if I'm out with four kids for three days looking at houses and schools," Conway told host Sean Hannity at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor. "A lot of my colleagues aren't trying to figure out how to be a mother of four kids, I assure you."

Conway has faced questions of credibility, with some TV programs banning her from their shows. While CNN reported Wednesday that White House officials were unhappy with Conway going "off message," and that consequently she'd been restricted in her TV appearance role, Conway explained: "About five percent of what I'm asked to do in this White House counselor role is TV. I think that's about right because [Trump is] the president now. He's his own best messenger."

Watch her defense below. Jeva Lange

6:37 a.m. ET

With Congress on break, some Republicans have been going to their home districts to attend town hall meetings packed with angry and concerned constituents asking them about President Trump's ties to Russia, their plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and why Congress would ever finance Trump's $20 billion border wall, accompanied by chants of "Do your job!" Other Republicans have decided that avoiding the voters is a more prudent course of action, and on Wednesday, Stephen Colbert's Late Show briefly showed why — with a little help from Quentin Tarantino. Watch below. Peter Weber

6:06 a.m. ET

On Thursday, Iraqi's militarized federal police launched an attack to seize Mosul's airport from the Islamic State while Iraqi special forces entered the sprawling Ghazlani military base nearby. The attack began with U.S.-led airstrikes overnight, followed by a coordinated assault on the airport, and Iraqi forces have captured the runway and are fighting scattered ISIS fire from inside airport buildings. "We can confirm that the Mosul airport militarily has fallen and it's a matter of short time to fully control it," said Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) spokesman Sabah al-Numan.

The airport and military base are on the southern side of Mosul, and the ISIS-controlled western side of the Tigris. Iraqi forces drove ISIS out of eastern Mosul in January, and five days ago began the campaign to retake the entire city, Iraq's second-largest. Like the bridges across the Tigris, the airport runway has been destroyed, but occupying the land and Ghazlani base will help Iraqi forces control southern routes to the western part of the city, says BBC Middle East correspondent Quentin Sommerville. You can watch Sommerville's report from the airport below. Peter Weber

5:06 a.m. ET
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The New York Police Department says it is costing New York City less to protect first lady Melania Trump and Barron, her son, than originally estimated. In a letter to New York's congressional delegation dated Tuesday, New York Police Commissioner James O'Neill said that the NYPD spent only $24 million on security for President Trump, his family, and Trump Tower between Election Day in November and Inauguration Day in late January, not the $35 million the department had anticipated.

The daily costs "to protect the first lady and her son while they reside in Trump Tower" now range from $127,000 to $146,000, O'Neill said, while the NYPD expects to spend "an average daily rate of $308,000" when President Trump is in town. That means New York will spend some $50 million a year protecting Melania and Barron Trump, if they stay in the city after this school year, The New York Times notes, or $60 million if the president begins returning home on weekends, rather than flying down to Florida. The New York members of Congress are trying to get federal reimbursement for the NYPD's expenses; so far, New York City has received about $7 million.

These costs don't include the Secret Service and Pentagon expenses related to the Trumps and Trump Tower. Peter Weber

4:21 a.m. ET

On Tuesday, activists hung a "Refugees Welcome" sign on the Statue of Liberty. "That's absolutely a lovely thought, but kind of redundant on the Statue of Liberty, isn't it?" Stephen Colbert asked on Wednesday's Late Show. "It's like taking a rainbow flag and adding 'We like the gays!' — it's not necessary." Or at least it wasn't. "But I guess that's where we are right now," he said: "You've got to say things out loud that before we just assumed we all agreed on."

That was Colbert's setup for President Trump's deep thoughts on slavery from his visit to the Museum of African American History and Culture, which reportedly included "Boy, that is just not good" and "That is really bad." "I haven't heard that kind of eloquent denunciation since the Civil War novel The Red Badge of Dang, That's Messed Up!" Colbert joked.

Trump is "a bit of a hothead, loose cannon, powder keg," Colbert said, after a dark joke about children in shackles, "which is why it's important for him to be counseled by people who are even-keeled. Unfortunately he's talking to some jerk named Alex Jones." For those unfamiliar with Jones — who, according to a new New York Times article, now serves as "occasional information source and validator for the president" and speaks with him on the phone — Colbert played a clip of the excitable conspiracy-monger, and then imitated him: "This is why you don't mix steroids with peyote, this is why!"

"Now, if you've been living underground for the last few years, you probably listen to Alex Jones," Colbert said. "But for the rest of you, he runs a conspiracy website called InfoWars." He played another clip. "Now obviously it's not fair to judge a guy on one, isolated, dumbass clip," Colbert said, pausing, "so here's a bunch of 'em." Jones was a surprisingly easy segue into a short riff about The Washington Post's new tagline: Democracy Dies in Darkness. "So The Washington Post has officially entered its goth phase," he said. "It's a strong message that they're going to hold Trump accountable, a message he will receive the minute Fox & Friends reports on it." Watch below. Peter Weber

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