April 21, 2014

The State Department on Monday said it was investigating allegations that Syrian troops used chemical weapons earlier this month against rebel forces, raising the possibility that President Obama will have to reconsider his light-touch approach to handling that nation's alleged war crimes.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the administration had seen "indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical, probably chlorine." However, she cautioned that it was too soon to draw any conclusions about whether a banned chemical agent was indeed used, and if so, by whom.

The news comes one day after France claimed to have information linking embattled President Bashar al-Assad's forces to a chemical weapons attack on April 11. The attack killed at least 10 and sickened hundreds more, with both the rebels and Assad's forces blaming the other side.

The Obama administration signaled last fall it was prepared to launch targeted strikes against Syria, though it opted instead for a more diplomatic approach under which Syria was to destroy its entire chemical weapons stockpile. If Syria truly did use chemical weapons again, it would threaten to upend the delicate compromise, presenting Obama with yet another thorny foreign policy question. Jon Terbush

1:21 a.m. ET
Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty Images

On Sunday, an adviser to Gambian President Adama Barrow said that former President Yahya Jammeh had nearly drained the national coffers in his final weeks before flying into exile on Saturday, as a regional West African military force entered Gambia to force him out of office. Jammeh lost December's election to Barrow, conceded defeat, then changed his mind a week later. Jammeh, who was in power 22 years, also shipped an unknown number of luxury vehicles and other goods out of the country on Saturday on a Chadian cargo plane.

"The Gambia is in financial distress," Barrow adviser Mai Ahmad Fatty said at a press conference in Senegal, where Barrow took the oath of office and is staying until Gambia is deemed safe. "The coffers are virtually empty. That is a state of fact.... It has been confirmed by technicians in the ministry of finance and the Central Bank of the Gambia." Fatty said that Jammeh had made off with at least $11.4 million in the two weeks, and financial experts are trying to see how much more is missing. Barrow "will return home as soon as possible," he added.

The West African military force arrived in Gambia's capital, Banjul, on Sunday night, greeted by cheering residents. They will start sweeping the State House, the president's official residence, to make sure it is safe, and stay in the country "until such time the security general situation is comprehensively redressed," Barrow said in a statement. Barrow is assembling a Cabinet and working on plans to reverse the state of emergency Jammeh put in place in his final weeks. Jammeh is reported to be in Equatorial Guinea, which is not party to the International Criminal Court. Peter Weber

12:51 a.m. ET
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In Russia, a bill introduced by a controversial lawmaker is being advanced that would decriminalize domestic violence.

A recent poll found that nearly 20 percent of Russians think it's acceptable to hit a spouse or a child, The Associated Press reports. Battery is a criminal offense in Russia, but the bill would remove criminal liability for assaults against relatives that do not cause severe injuries. Last summer, the Supreme Court ruled to decriminalize battery that does not inflict bodily harm, but retain criminal charges for anyone accused of battery against a family member. Conservative activists said this wasn't right, because it meant a parent spanking their child would receive a heftier punishment than a non-parent hitting the child. The woman who introduced the bill is ultra-conservative lawmaker Yelena Mizulina, who also authored a law banning "gay propaganda."

This bill "is not going to improve the situation to say the least," Irina Matvienko, who runs the Anna Center Foundation hotline, told AP. "Domestic violence is a system which makes it difficult for a woman to seek help. It's not a traditional value. It's a crime." The foundation runs the only domestic violence hotline in Russia, and in 2016 received more than 5,000 calls during office hours. In 2013, more than 9,000 women were reported to have been killed in domestic violence incidents, and many more being abused are too afraid to come forward, activist Alyona Popova said. "Society is judgmental," she said. "It goes like this: you're a bad woman if you allow this to happen to you, or you're airing dirty laundry and you're to blame, or it's he beats you [and] it means he loves you. And a lot of people don't want to go public about it." Catherine Garcia

12:28 a.m. ET

Protecting America's top political leaders — including the outgoing and incoming presidents, Supreme Court justices, and leaders of Congress — at an outdoor inauguration, plus the crowd of people who came to watch President Trump sworn in on Friday, is no small feat, and the various U.S. law enforcement officers who kept everyone safe deserve commendation. On Sunday, Trump gave law enforcement leaders his personal thanks — in some cases, very personal — at a reception in the White House.

Trump called newly sworn-in Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, whom he called "General," up for a hand-clasp and arm-pat, saying, "From Day 1, I have felt safe." Then he pointed to FBI Director James Comey, making a gesture with his lips. "Jim," he said. "He's become more famous than me." Trump shook Comey's hand, whispered something in his ear, and gave him a pat on the arm. Watch below. Peter Weber

January 22, 2017
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FBI, CIA, and NSA agents have investigated communications between retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President Trump's national security adviser, and Russian officials to determine if the contact may have violated laws, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

It's unclear when the inquiry began or whether any incriminating evidence has been found. Flynn plays a role in setting U.S. policy toward Russia, and the probe is looking into a series of calls Flynn made to the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced sanctions against Russia for interfering with the 2016 presidential election. Read more about the investigation at The Wall Street Journal. Catherine Garcia

January 22, 2017
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The Atlanta Falcons will take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 51 on Feb. 5 in Houston.

The Patriots will be making their record ninth appearance in the Super Bowl, while this will only be the second time for the Falcons, who last played in 1998. The Falcons, led by quarterback Matt Ryan, defeated the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the NFC championship game to advance to the Super Bowl, while the Patriots beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17 in the AFC championship game. Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady began the season with a four-game suspension. Catherine Garcia

January 22, 2017
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For two hours on Sunday night, every domestic United Airlines flight was grounded due to a computer outage, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The ground stop was issued at United's request, the FAA said, and international flights were not affected. United blamed the ground stop on "an IT issue," and U.S. officials told NBC News the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) was having issues with low bandwidth. The ground stop was originally scheduled to end at 8 p.m. ET, but it wasn't lifted until shortly after 9 p.m. Catherine Garcia

January 22, 2017
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On Monday, a group of well-known Supreme Court litigators, constitutional scholars, and former White House ethics lawyers will file a lawsuit claiming that by letting his hotels and business operations accept payments from foreign governments, President Trump is violating the Constitution, The New York Times reports.

The team will argue that the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution bans payments from foreign entities to Trump's companies, including those from guests at Trump's hotels and golf courses and loans for his buildings from banks controlled by foreign governments. "The framers of the Constitution were students of history," Deepak Gupta, one of the lawyers behind the suit, told the Times. "And they understood that one way a republic could fail is if foreign powers could corrupt our elected leaders." The suit is not seeking any monetary damages, but rather that Trump stop taking foreign payments. Other members of the legal team include Harvard constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe, U.C. Irvine law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky, and presidential ethics lawyers Norman Eisen (Obama) and Richard Painter (Bush).

Trump's lawyers have said the provision does not apply to fair-market payments, like a standard hotel room bill. "This is purely harassment for political gain, and, frankly, I find it very, very sad," Eric Trump, a vice president of the Trump Organization, told The New York Times on Sunday. Catherine Garcia

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