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May 2, 2014

Early Friday, Ukraine launched an "anti-terrorist" offensive to retake Slovyansk and other eastern Ukraine cities it has lost to pro-Russia militias. Moscow sharply criticized Ukraine's decision to try to reassert control over its own territory; Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitri Peskov warned ominously that Ukraine's "punitive operation" essentially destroys "all hope for the viability of the Geneva agreements" to halt the violence.

The Geneva agreement, of course, required the pro-Russia militias to lay down their arms, too, and instead they've just taken over more cities. Russia has amassed troops along the Ukraine border, for military "exercise," and denies that its special forces are in Ukraine guiding the separatist uprising. There's a growing body of inconclusive evidence suggesting otherwise, but if not Russian "green men," who exactly is organizing the well-armed, well-coordinated capture of eastern Ukraine?

Ukraine's invasion, launched early Friday morning, isn't going well so far: Pro-Russian militants shot down two Ukrainian attack helicopters with shoulder-fired missile launchers, killing two Ukrainian servicemen, and shot at a third helicopter carrying medics. The expert use of anti-aircraft missiles is proof that "trained, highly qualified foreign military specialists" are operating in Slovyansk and elsewhere in eastern Ukraine, the domestic intelligence agency SBU told Reuters, "and not local civilians, as the Russian government says, armed only with guns taken from hunting stores."

The SBU is hardly a disinterested source, but Russia doesn't seem to have an answer for that. Earlier this week, The Daily Beast reported that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a group of world leaders last Friday that "intel is producing taped conversations of intelligence operatives taking their orders from Moscow and everybody can tell the difference in the accents, in the idioms, in the language." Kerry added: "It's not an accident that you have some of the same people identified who were in Crimea and in Georgia and who are now in east Ukraine," and Russia's denial of involvement "is insulting to everybody's intelligence."

That, or Russia just doesn't care what we think. Peter Weber

7:50 a.m. ET

Fox News held an immigration town hall event in Jacksonville, Florida, on Tuesday night, and host Martha MacCallum started off by asking White House policy advisor Stephen Miller via satellite about President Trump's coming replacement executive order limiting immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries and refugees. "So how is it going to be different this time?" she asked. "Well, nothing was wrong with the first executive order, however there was a flawed judicial ruling that was erroneous," Miller said. "Because of the exigency of the situation," he added, "the president is going to be issuing a new executive action — based off of the judicial ruling, flawed though it may be — to protect our country and to keep our people safe, and that is going to be coming very soon."

The new order will be "responsive to the judicial ruling," including mostly "minor, technical differences," Miller said. "Fundamentally, you're still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country, but you're going to be responsive to a lot of very technical issues what were brought up by the court, and those will be addressed." MacCallum pressed him a little bit on that. "I know you think the order was fine the way it was issued initially, but courts disagreed — in fact, 48 courts took issue with it, and that's why it's halted right now," she said. As an example, she asked if the order will justify singling out the seven majority-Muslim countries and not, say, Saudi Arabia or Russia. "We've had dozens and dozens of terrorism cases from these seven countries — case after case after case," Miller said, without elaborating.

MacCallum ended by noting that we'll see soon enough if those "technical" fixes will satisfy the pretty fundamental problems flagged by the federal judiciary. As Trump might put it: SEE YOU IN COURT. Peter Weber

7:24 a.m. ET
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

The American people are warming up to the Affordable Care Act even as Republicans move to repeal and replace the program, a new Politico/Morning consult poll shows. In January, before President Trump took office, just 41 percent of voters approved of ObamaCare, compared with 52 percent who disapproved. Now that divide is evenly split: 45 percent of voters approve of the law, and 45 percent disapprove.

"As the threat of the Affordable Care Act's repeal has moved from notional to concrete, our weekly polling has shown an uptick in the law's popularity, and fewer voters support repealing the law," noted Morning Consult's co-founder, Kyle Dropp.

Of nine ObamaCare provisions, most voters only want to repeal the individual mandate that Americans buy health insurance, rather than keep it. On the other hand, two-thirds of voters want to keep laws prohibiting insurance companies from denying patients with preexisting conditions, and another 63 percent believe people under 26 should stay on their parents' plans.

Even parts of the law opposed by many Republicans, such as requiring businesses with more than 50 full-time employees to provide health care, are favored by voters: 59 percent of people said they want to keep the requirement.

The poll reached 2,013 registered voters between Feb. 16 and 19, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percent. See the full results here. Jeva Lange

6:39 a.m. ET
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Maybe it shouldn't be surprising that an administration that embraced the phrase "alternative facts" is less than nitpicky when it comes to factual accuracy, but President Trump's "proclivity for making dubious, misleading, or false statements" is really something, says The Washington Post's fact-checking team. In his first 33 days as president, in fact, "we've counted 132 false or misleading claims," or at least one a day — and seven or more on four separate days, write Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Glenn Kessler, and Leslie Shapiro. Since it can be hard to keep up with Trump's various claims, The Washington Post has organized them by theme and day, and will continue to do so for the president's first 100 days. The team will update their fact-checking tally every Friday, and you can keep track of their work and Trump's false and misleading claims at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

5:57 a.m. ET

On Tuesday, the venerable Merriam-Webster dictionary schooled the ACLU on Twitter — "trolled" would be too strong a word. It started out with President Trump's new rules on immigration:

"You said it, not us," the ACLU responded. "Can ACLU petition to have the word 'vetting' retired or at least disassociated after all this is over?" asked a Twitter user from California, Shawna Iwaniuk. "Bury it with 'yolo.'" The ACLU roped in Merriam-Webster, which went in an unexpected direction:

On Monday, Merriam Webster got sassy with The Associated Press Style Guide — and remember, this is a dictionary playfully sparring with a copyeditor's rule book:

This is all part of the digital reinvention of the 189-year-old dictionary company. Merriam-Webster decided to put its dictionary online for free consumption in 1996, a decision the company credits for its continued success, says James Sullivan at The Boston Globe, and "its Twitter account, run out of the company's New York office by social media manager Lauren Naturale... has been duly noted as an astute, quirky, and humanizing exemplar of corporate communications."

The dictionary's social media presence "is impressive and unexpected," dictionary expert David Skinner tells The Globe. "Lexicography, remember, is not show business.... Sure, the age of social media bestows all sorts of minor celebrity on one type of person or another, but that Merriam-Webster has been able to make lexicographers look cool is still kind of shocking to me." If you want to learn more about how this happened, you can read an interview with Naturale, who has headed Merriam-Webster's social media since 2016, at Vox. Peter Weber

5:17 a.m. ET

MSNBC's Morning Joe barred Kellyanne Conway from appearing on one of President Trump's favorite morning talk shows, and host Joe Scarborough explained why on Tuesday's Late Show. "It got to a point where Kellyanne would keep coming out, and everything she said was disproven, like, 5 minutes later," he said, "and it wasn't disproven by fact-checkers, it was somebody else in the administration." "There's a quicker way to say that entire sentence," Stephen Colbert replied: "She just lied." "Well, yes, exactly," Scarborough conceded.

Colbert noted that, based on Trump's Twitter feed, the president is still a faithful Morning Joe watcher. Scarborough agreed, saying he and co-host Mika Brzezinski say "Hi Donald" to the camera every morning. Colbert pointed out that even he calls Trump "Mr. President," and Scarborough laughed. "He's been Donald Trump forever, he's been Donald forever, you know?" he said. "So it's kind of hard to start calling him Mr. President — and I'll be really honest with you, the way he's acted over the past month has made it even harder to call him Mr. President."

Scarborough said that as a Republican and a conservative, he was not a fan of President Bill Clinton, but he rooted for him once he took office, and people shouldn't cheer against Trump, either. "I actually think we should pray for our president," he said. "But that requires all of us as Americans to do what we can when the president is not doing what he needs to be doing, to stand up and do our part too." He said it was important for all Americans, especially Republicans and Republican senators in particular, "to stand up right now and speak out."

"The Republican Party needs to know that there is going to be a time after Donald Trump, and they are going to be judged for the next 50 years on how they respond to the challenges today," he said. When the audience started cheering, and Scarborough feigned confusion, Colbert chided him, "You were totally going for that," adding, "I wish I shared your optimism that there will be a time after Donald Trump." Scarborough ended with his thoughts on who's really in charge in the White House, and what Trump needs and isn't getting from his inner circle. Watch below. Peter Weber

4:22 a.m. ET

President Trump visited the Smithsonian's new Museum of African American History and Culture on Tuesday. It was an exciting, delayed "field trip," Stephen Colbert said on Tuesday's Late Show, though beforehand "he was so worried Steve Bannon wouldn't sign his permission slip." After his tour, Colbert said, Trump praised "the greatest figures in African American history, like Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, and Ben Carson," before mentioning Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) — and quickly pivoting to his own win in South Carolina. "Yes, he loves those states where he won by double, double, double digits, but he seems to hate the country where he lost by millions, millions, millions of votes," Colbert zinged, adding, "he's still president, he's just a loser president."

Colbert touched on the Department of Homeland Security's new directives on how to carry out Trump's immigration orders, but mostly to introduce a story about hunters in Texas who shot each other and falsely blamed illegal Mexican immigrants. "It's like the old joke: Knock, knock. Blam, blam, blam!" he said, after explaining the particulars of the tale.

Trump has already hit the links an impressive six times in his first month in office, Colbert noted, and when the audience laughed he had them golf-clap instead. "Now, we know that the president has been to the golf course six times, but for some reason his aides would not confirm that Trump played golf each time he went to the course," he said. "Sure, he could be on the course for any reason — we know he loves making fun of people's handicaps." The reason they are being cagey is likely because Trump frequently criticized President Barack Obama's golfing and said he himself wouldn't have time to golf as president. "Well, then that's good news," Colbert said. "If Trump has time to be out on the golf course, I guess that means America is great again."

Colbert ended his monologue with a look at Pope Francis' recent lecture about today's youths. The pope "addressed a vexing theological issue: texting at dinner," blaming it for starting wars, he noted, and also said today's kids have bad manners. "I don't get it — Francis was supposed to be the cool pope, but now it seems like he's turning into Curmudgeon I," Colbert said. He ended with a clip for his new premium cable show, Old Pope, and you can watch below. Peter Weber

2:15 a.m. ET
Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

Malaysian police say there have been attempts to break into the morgue where the body of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged older half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, is being held.

Nine days ago, after he said a woman sprayed chemicals in his face at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Kim Jong Nam died from a seizure on his way to the hospital. Authorities investigating his death announced Tuesday they want to question a senior North Korean diplomat and a man linked to Air Koryo, the state airline in North Korea, and police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said it's "strongly believed" that four suspects left Malaysia on the day Kim died and fled to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. He added that police know the identities of the attempted morgue raiders, but declined to name them.

Police have arrested four people in connection with Kim's death — a Vietnamese woman, a Malaysian man, a North Korean man, and an Indonesian woman who claimed she was tricked into participating in an attack against Kim. Khalid says this isn't true, and the suspects all practiced the operation in public spaces. The incident has strained ties between North Korea and Malaysia, one of just a few countries that has open relations with Pyongyang. Catherine Garcia

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