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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

8:19 p.m. ET
Sandy Huffaker/AFP/Getty Images

Employees at the Department of Energy's Office of International Climate and Clean Energy might soon start reporting to the Office of [Redacted].

This week, an office supervisor told staffers not to use the phrases "climate change," "emissions reduction," or "Paris Agreement" in memos and other written communication, people with knowledge of the matter told Politico Wednesday. During a meeting on Tuesday, the same day President Trump signed an executive order that reversed much of former President Barack Obama's climate change policies, senior officials told staffers such words gave Energy Secretary Rick Perry and White House advisers a "visceral reaction."

Staffers in the State Department and other Department of Energy offices said they have not been told to stop using specific phrases, but "people are doing a lot of reading into tea leaves," one State official told Politico. "People are taking their own initiative to not use certain words based on hints from transition people. Everyone is encouraged to find different ways of talking about things." A spokeswoman for the Energy Department told Politico that "no words or phrases have been banned for this office or anyone in the department." Catherine Garcia

7:09 p.m. ET
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Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, two former allies of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and major players in the Bridgegate scandal, were sentenced to prison on Wednesday, four months after being found guilty of conspiracy, wire fraud, and other charges.

Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was sentenced to two years in prison and 500 hours of community service, while his co-conspirator Kelly was given 18 months in prison and one year of probation. Another former member of Christie's inner circle, David Wildstein, said he was the one who came up with the idea of closing lanes on the New Jersey side of the busy George Washington Bridge in September 2013 to punish a Democratic mayor who would not support Christie's reelection; Wildstein, who cooperated with authorities and has not yet been sentenced, said Baroni and Kelly assisted him with the plan.

During the trial last year, witnesses said Christie was well aware of the plot; he has said he didn't know anything about it until the news was broken, and he was never charged with any crime. Baroni and Kelly both said they thought the lane closures were for a traffic study and they will appeal their sentences, and Kelly described herself as a "scapegoat." Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Cortes had no sympathy, telling Baroni he "corrupted his office to send a petty, vindictive political message." Catherine Garcia

5:23 p.m. ET
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Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner offered up some truly innovative explanations for global warming at an event for natural gas advocates in Harrisburg on Tuesday. Wagner, a Republican state senator, suggested at one point during his keynote address that humans' "warm bodies" could be responsible for the Earth's rising temperatures. "We have more people. You know, humans have warm bodies," Wagner said. "So is heat coming off?"

Later, after admitting he hadn't "been in a science class in a long time," Wagner hypothesized that global warming could also be due to the Earth's rotation. "...[T]he Earth moves closer to the sun every year — you know, the rotation of the Earth," Wagner said. "We're moving closer to the sun."

If Wagner were to return to a science class, he might be surprised to discover that the Earth's rotation happens daily, not annually, and that the Earth's proximity to the sun doesn't necessarily result in warmer temperatures. In fact, Huffington Post noted "the United States and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere experience winter when the Earth's yearly orbit brings it closest to the sun."

Wagner later clarified in a statement issued by his spokeswoman that he does believe in climate change and that he thinks "some of that change is certainly manmade." He did not, however, mention scientists' main culprit for global warming: greenhouse gases. Becca Stanek

4:51 p.m. ET
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First daughter Ivanka Trump is ditching her plans to serve as an informal adviser to her father President Trump and will instead become an official government employee, The New York Times reported Wednesday. Trump's title will be assistant to the president, and she will not be paid.

Trump, who already has her own office in the West Wing, said she changed her plans after ethics experts raised concerns about the arrangement. "I have heard the concerns some have with my advising the president in my personal capacity while voluntarily complying with all ethics rules, and I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House office, subject to all of the same rules as other federal employees," Trump said in a statement Wednesday.

Trump's lawyer also noted she will "file the financial disclosure forms required of federal employees." Becca Stanek

3:38 p.m. ET
Screenshot/CBS News

The Senate Intelligence Committee has devoted seven full-time staff members to the ongoing investigation of the Trump campaign's ties to Russia's interference in the presidential election, committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) announced Wednesday. Burr, noting the investigation is "one of the biggest" he's seen in his time on Capitol Hill, said the individuals have been looking at an "unprecedented amount" of intelligence documents.

The committee has had conversations with "a lot of people," Burr indicated, including ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. "To date, we have made 20 requests for individuals to be interviewed by the committee," Burr said. He noted the committee would be "willing to issue subpoenas."

When asked if there was evidence yet of any "direct links" between President Trump and Russia, Burr acknowledged the committee's "challenge is to answer that question for the American people."

Burr said the review should be completed "within weeks." Becca Stanek

2:07 p.m. ET

President Trump's abysmally low approval rating just got even lower. Gallup's latest poll released Wednesday found that now just 35 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing — a historic low for a president at this stage of his term. Fifty-nine percent disapprove of Trump's performance.

This marks the second time this week that Trump's approval rating has dipped to a new low for him. After Republicans' health-care fiasco Friday, Trump's approval rating plummeted to 36 percent Monday, Gallup found — but apparently the downhill slide wasn't over yet.

Political Capital offered some context for just how bad Trump's 35 percent approval rating actually is. Apparently former President Richard Nixon held a higher approval rating during the Watergate hearings than Trump does right now:

The daily tracking poll surveyed approximately 1,500 adults by phone, and the results are based on a three-day rolling average. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. Becca Stanek

1:03 p.m. ET

On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer indicated that the Trump administration will revisit health care following the bruising failure of the Republican replacement bill last week.

Trump "talked about repealing and replacing," Spicer explained. "It's a commitment he made. He'd like to get it done."

Spicer dismissed Trump's comments about the ease of replacing Affordable Care Act as being "a lighthearted moment" and added that health care is an "ongoing discussion" for the White House. Either way, Republican health-care efforts will likely be temporarily abandoned as the party turns its attention to the budget and tax reforms. Jeva Lange

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