Former K.G.B. officer turned British MI6 spy Alexander V. Litvinenko was poisoned in 2006, an action British investigators are now saying was "probably approved" by Vladimir Putin himself, The New York Times reports. Litvinenko died 22 days after drinking green tea laced with the rare isotope polonium 210 in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel in London; Litvinenko was in the company of Russian associates Andrei K. Lugovoi and Dmitri V. Kovtun, both of whom deny the accusations. Lugovoi and Kovtun say Litvinenko was trying to poison them.
The British report listed possible motives of the Kremlin, including the belief that Litvinenko betrayed the Russian Federal Security Service, F.S.B., while working for the organization in Moscow and had begun to work for the British as a spy after fleeing to London in 2000. Litvinenko was also reportedly friends with prominent opponents of the Kremlin, and himself a critic too. While in Moscow, Litvinenko had specialized in taking on organized crime.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov said the Litvinenko murder "is not among the topics that interest us." However, the accusations out of Britain very well may chill relations between London and Moscow.
Before he died, Litvinenko released a statement from his deathbed warning that, "You may succeed in silencing one man, but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life." Jeva Lange
Former child star Justin Bieber reportedly rejected an offer of $5 million to perform at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this month. The pitch came from GOP donors who presumably wanted to match the saturation of Hollywood stars at the Democratic National Convention the following week.
Though an event coordinator suggested Bieber's appearance would be "not political," TMZ reports that Bieber's manager, Scooter Braun, a Hillary Clinton backer, believed it would be "100 percent political."
Though the offer would have been Bieber's largest single payday ever, perhaps it's a good thing the deal never materialized given the GOP's choice of Donald Trump for its presidential nominee. After all, Bieber is an immigrant from Canada, and if he can be taken as a representative figure, it really seems like "they’re not sending their best," as Trump himself would say. Bonnie Kristian
A hot air balloon carrying at least 16 people caught fire and crashed into a pasture in Texas Saturday morning, federal officials told the Associated Press. The crash happened near a small city called Lockhart in Caldwell County south of Austin around 7:40 a.m. Central time. There were no survivors.
— Alexa Conomos (@WFAAalexa) July 30, 2016
The Texas Department of Public Safety initially announced multiple fatalities, and Caldwell County later confirmed all the passengers were killed. "Investigators are determining the number and the identities of victims at this time," said the local sheriff, Daniel Law. Agents of the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are headed to the site of the incident.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement Saturday morning extending his "deepest condolences" and asking his state to join in prayer for those who were lost.
This post has been updated throughout. Bonnie Kristian
About two years after Russia's much-disputed annexation of the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine, the Ukrainian parliament passed a "de-communization" law which changed a number of location and street names from their Soviet-era titles. The law included Crimea, even though many now regard it as de facto Russian territory.
The staff of Google Maps "suffer from topographical cretinism," charged Dmitry Polonsky, deputy chair of the Russian Council of Crimean Ministers, while Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov of the Russian Unity Party accused Google of being "Russophobic." More seriously, Russian Communications Minister Nikolai Nikiforov suggested Moscow might "not allow [Google] to effectively conduct business" in his country if the names weren't switched back.
Researchers from Britain have taught an 11-year-old orangutan named Rocky at the Indianapolis Zoo to imitate human speech in a conversational context. This is the first time an ape has demonstrated such ability, and the scientists involved say Rocky's skills could offer important insight into the development of human language.
"This opens up the potential for us to learn more about the vocal capacities of early hominids that lived before the split between the orangutan and human lineages," said lead researcher Adriano Lameria. While it was previously assumed great apes could not intentionally modulate their sounds, Lameria said, this "research proves that orangutans have the potential capacity to control the action of their voices."
Watch a video of Rocky "talking" below, but don't expect Shakespeare: His vocabulary appears to be limited to one word, "hi," and it sounds more like "huh." Bonnie Kristian
Nearly 4,300 firefighters on central California's Big Sur coast continue to battle the Soberanes Wildfire, a raging blaze that has spread to cover about 50 square miles (or 32,000 acres).
The fire began last Friday and is mostly located in the drought-ridden Los Padres National Forest, but it has destroyed 57 homes and caused multiple parks to close. As of Saturday, the fire is just 15 percent contained as "high temperatures [and] rugged, steep terrain" make firefighters' work difficult.
Watch a time-lapse video of the Soberanes Wildfire's spread below. Bonnie Kristian
— CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) July 29, 2016
Representatives of billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch continue to turn down meeting requests from major fundraisers of the Donald Trump campaign, even after Trump formally claimed the Republican nomination for president.
A pro-Trump cadre reportedly lobbied for a conversation between the brothers and their candidate on Friday, when all three happened to be in Colorado Springs at once, but the Kochs firmly declined. Their disinterest is not surprising, as an unnamed senior Koch official predicted in February that should the election come down to Trump vs. Hillary Clinton, the Kochs might well sit this one out.
Indeed, the brothers have been consistently critical of Trump's candidacy, with Charles in April calling Trump's Muslim registry proposal "reminiscent of Nazi Germany," "monstrous," and "frightening." He has also described choosing between Trump and Clinton as picking "cancer or a heart attack" and labeled Trump's principles "antithetical" to his own. Bonnie Kristian
Republican Donald Trump took a six-point national lead over Democrat Hillary Clinton in at least two polls, from CNN and The Los Angeles Times, immediately following his nomination at his party's convention in Cleveland last week. But that polling bump has since evaporated, as a new Reuters survey finds Clinton is now six points ahead after her own convention.
Meanwhile, a Real Clear Politics average of multiple recent polls puts Trump and Clinton in a dead heat — each claiming 44.3 percent national support — as of Friday. It likewise records the disappearance of Trump's brief lead, which marked only the second time he has ever pulled into first place throughout the whole election cycle per that calculation. See the history of their matchup below. Bonnie Kristian