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March 16, 2014

Crimeans head to the polls Sunday to vote in a referendum on whether the peninsula should break away from Ukraine and join Russia. The United States, its allies, and the interim Ukrainian government have assailed the vote as a Russian stunt with no constitutional legitimacy. The Group of 7 last week said in a statement the referendum was "contrary to Ukrainian law and in violation of international law," adding that it "would have no legal effect."

However, Russia on Saturday vetoed a proposed U.N. resolution that would have preemptively declared the referendum's results invalid. Officials expect Crimea will resoundingly vote to split from Ukraine, delivering a victory to Moscow, which sent troops into the region earlier this month.

"The result has been pre-planned by the Kremlin as a formal justification to send in its troops and start a war that will destroy people's lives and the economic prospects for Crimea," Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine's interim president, said. Jon Terbush

7:41 a.m. ET

"If Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are on a boat together — if they're on a boat together and it sinks, who survives? America!" local attorney David Chavez said during introductory remarks at a Donald Trump rally in New Mexico Tuesday evening, to uproarious applause.

His jokes didn't stop there. During his five-minute introduction at the rally, Chavez repeatedly hit on Trump's likely competition in the general election, urging voters to consider Bill Clinton's previous sexual misconduct in making the choice between Trump and Hillary Clinton. "Even Bill Clinton chose other women, so you should, too," Chavez said.

And if anyone happened to be hung up on voting for Hillary Clinton to elect a woman and "to break the glass ceiling," Chavez had an answer for that too. "Voting for her just because she is a woman is like drinking bleach because it looks like water," he said.

Watch his full speech below. Becca Stanek

7:16 a.m. ET

Presidential candidates are just so much more fun after they've dropped out of the race. Take Marco Rubio as an example — the Florida senator has fully embraced his inner Twitter-ranter in recent weeks.

He has also, apparently, embraced his inner robot:

Open the pod bay doors, Rubio. Jeva Lange

6:58 a.m. ET
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

The FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating a Tennessee real estate company with personal and financial ties to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), The Wall Street Journal reports, and the federal investigators are separately looking into the relationship between Corker and the firm, CBL & Associates Properties Inc. Corker has made millions of dollars through trading CBL stock, some of that profit originally improperly undisclosed in congressional filings; authorities have reportedly found no evidence that Corker committed wrongdoing.

A spokeswoman for Corker, Micah Johnson, blamed the "baseless charges against Senator Corker" on the nonpartisan group Campaign for Accountability, which told The Journal that unfortunately "we don’t have the ability to tell the FBI or SEC what to do." Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and member of the Banking Committee, has a long history with CBL and the Lebovitz family that owns it, and CBL insists that nobody at the firm passed Corker insider information. So long as his 70 trades of CBL stock — several trades worth more than $1 million — were not based on inside information, Corker's trading is allowed under congressional ethics rules. Peter Weber

5:58 a.m. ET

Billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel has "played a lead role in bankrolling" Hulk Hogan's lawsuits against Gawker, the first of which ended with a $140 million judgment against Gawker over its publishing of a sex tape starring the wrestler and his friend's wife, Forbes reported Tuesday night, citing "people familiar with the situation." Gawker Media founder Nick Denton, also held personally liable by the Florida jury, speculated to The New York Times earlier Tuesday that perhaps someone in Silicon Valley was funding the Hogan lawsuits and a group of new ones against Gawker and some of its writers, all brought by Los Angeles lawyer Charles Harder.

"If you're a billionaire and you don't like the coverage of you, and you don't particularly want to embroil yourself any further in a public scandal, it's a pretty smart, rational thing to fund other legal cases." Denton said. Unlike the rich and famous in New York and L.A., he reasoned, Silicon Valley's elite isn't used to the glare of tabloid press. And Thiel would seem to have a motive for revenge; Gawker Media's defunct Valleywag site outed him as gay in 2007, and in 2009 he said, "Valleywag is the Silicon Valley equivalent of al Qaeda," with the "psychology of a terrorist." Thiel did not respond to Forbes' request for comment, and Forbes notes that "it is not illegal for an outside entity to help fund another party's lawsuit."

Thiel is maybe the only person in Silicon Valley who supports Donald Trump, but "regardless of his politics, this news should disturb everyone," says Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo. "People talk a lot about the dominance of the 1 percent or in this case more like a tiny fraction of the 1 percent. But being able to give massive political contributions actually pales in comparison to the impact of being able to destroy a publication you don't like by combining the machinery of the courts with anonymity and unlimited funds to bleed a publication dry. We don't have to go any further than Donald Trump to know that the incredibly rich often use frivolous litigation to intimidate critics and bludgeon enemies." You can learn more in the Forbes report below. Peter Weber

4:59 a.m. ET
William Edwards/AFP/Getty Images

Back in January, when he was having a fight with Fox News, Donald Trump skipped out on a Fox News–sponsored presidential debate and held his own rally and fundraiser for charities dedicated to military veterans. "We just cracked $6 million! Right? $6 million," he said at the Iowa event. And "Donald Trump gave $1 million." That wasn't true until Monday night, David A. Fahrenthold says at The Washington Post, after Fahrenthold had taken to Twitter to try to ascertain how many veterans' charities had received any money from Trump.

On Monday night, Trump called the home of James Kallstrom, chairman of the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, and pledged $1 million, according to Kallstrom's wife. When Fahernthold asked Trump over the phone on Tuesday why it took him four months to follow through on his pledge, Trump said, "You have a lot of vetting to do." Fahrenthold suggested that perhaps Trump had only taken action because reporters were asking him about his pledge, and Trump shot back: "You know, you're a nasty guy. You're really a nasty guy. I gave out millions of dollars that I had no obligation to do." Trump also said that the fundraiser had rounded up about $5.5 million total, and that, despite the assertion of campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, no major pledgees had dropped out, though "some of them came through very late."

Trump said he would have his staff send The Washington Post a list of groups that received the donations, but hadn't as of Tuesday night. Veterans' groups have been trying to figure out how to apply for some of the remaining millions, since there is no application process. But at least one group has been contacted since Monday, the Boston Wounded Vet Bike Run, founded by Andrew Biggio. Biggio told The Post that a Trump campaign worker had called him out of the blue on Tuesday to ask for the nonprofit's phone number, and that he hadn't applied for any of the money. However, he did suggest how he got on Trump's radar: "I served in Iraq with Donald Trump's bodyguard's son." You can read more at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

3:36 a.m. ET

Congress has an approval rating of 14 percent, and Seth Meyers has some theories about that. On Tuesday's Late Night, he took a break from the media-consuming presidential campaign to focus on what Congress is not doing. "Obstruction in Congress has been on full display in recent months, with Senate Republicans refusing to even hold hearings on President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland," and House Republicans short-changing anti-Zika funding and playing fast and loose with House rules to thwart an LGBT anti-discrimination bill.

Meyers mocked the Democrats' "lame" recent move to hold mock hearings on Garland, but he spent most of his time focused on the GOP. "So Republicans have basically paralyzed the government, they can't even perform basic constitutional functions or respond to public health emergencies, and maybe the worst is, Republican obstruction has become completely normalized," he said. "No one even questions it anymore." But of course, the presidential race is still the big news, and Meyers found a way to work Donald Trump in at the end. Watch below. Peter Weber

2:56 a.m. ET
Win McNamee/Getty Images

After weeks of speculation, House Speaker Paul Ryan will endorse his party's presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, unidentified senior Trump campaign sources tell ABC News. Ryan is the highest-ranking Republican official, and his endorsement would widely be seen as a sign that the Republican Party is uniting after its divisive primary. The Trump sources did not say when this endorsement would happen, but ABC's Brian McBride noted that Ryan has a press briefing on Wednesday. If Ryan does not endorse Trump then, he will certainly get questions about it. Peter Weber

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