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April 29, 2014
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We may have finally reached a tipping point: Conservatives, it seems, are finally safe to criticize Sarah Palin (without fear of being written out of the movement, that is).

As is the case with tipping points, accretion tends to go mostly unnoticed until the dam finally breaks. And it seems to have broken a bit this week, with two coinciding stories. First, there was the Washington Post story by Robert Costa (formerly of the conservative National Review), which labeled Palin "a diminished figure in the Republican Party." That story included a quote from popular conservative blogger and talk radio host Erick Erickson, who conceded, "She has some pull with the base, but it has fallen a little bit." That hardly makes her sound like a powerhouse.

Coincidence, or not, I have noticed an uptick in Palin criticism from the right over the second Palin story this week — her comments to the NRA about how waterboarding is how she'd "baptize terrorists."

Among the conservatives publicly voicing opposition to the baptism comments: The Weekly Standard's Mark Hemingway, the American Conservative's Rod Dreher, our own Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review's Charles C.W. Cooke, David Freddoso of the Conservative Intelligence Briefing, and the Federalist's Mollie Hemingway.

This is not to suggest conservatives are uniformly turning against Palin, but it is to suggest that she can no longer count on conservative opinion leaders being cowed into silent support of her antics, for fear of angering their (and her) base.

As someone who has written both favorably — and unfavorably — about Palin, I can attest to the fact that there has long been a huge disincentive to the latter. Strict conformity was regularly imposed by Palin supporters who surfed the net in search of RINO scalps to claim. Could it be that Costa's report has finally created a sort of permission structure for conservatives to finally voice what they have —for years — been thinking? Matt K. Lewis

10:06 p.m. ET
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Federal prosecutors say a State Department worker was treated to lavish gifts and even a furnished apartment by a pair of Chinese intelligence agents in exchange for sensitive information.

Candace Claiborne, 60, started working for the State Department in 1999, and had a top security clearance. She was arrested Tuesday, and charged with obstructing an official proceeding and making false statements to the FBI. In a complaint, prosecutors allege that Claiborne accepted cash, an iPhone, a laptop, vacations, and meals worth thousands of dollars, and she was targeted by the agents in an attempt to glean information on political, economic, and security policies that could affect China. In one case, prosecutors say, Claiborne was wired $2,500 by a Chinese intelligence officer, and they asked in return for an "internal evaluation" made by the U.S. government at an economic conference with the Chinese government.

Claiborne has denied the allegations, and pled not guilty on Wednesday. Should she be found guilty of all charges, she could face up to 25 years in prison. Catherine Garcia

8:56 p.m. ET

A van carrying elderly church parishioners and a pickup truck crashed head on Wednesday afternoon in Concan, Texas, killing 12 people and injuring three.

The accident happened near Garner State Park, and the cause is under investigation, the Texas Department of Public Safety said. There were 14 people in the van, and only the driver inside the Dodge truck, NBC News reports. On Facebook, the First Baptist New Braunfels Church said the group in the van was heading back home after attending a three-day retreat. Catherine Garcia

8:19 p.m. ET
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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
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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

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