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January 26, 2016

Last week, British government investigators accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of "probably" ordering the murder of critic and one-time KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. The U.S. isn't going that far, but a high-ranking U.S. Treasury official is calling Putin corrupt, on the record with BBC Panorama, for its show on "Putin's Secret Riches"

"We've seen him enriching his friends, his close allies, and marginalizing those who he doesn't view as friends using state assets," said Adam Szubin, the acting U.S. Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, in charge of U.S. sanctions. "Whether that's Russia's energy wealth, whether it's other state contracts, he directs those to whom he believes will serve him and excludes those who don't. To me, that is a picture of corruption." Putin "supposedly draws a state salary of something like $110,000 a year," Szubin added. "That is not an accurate statement of the man's wealth, and he has long time training and practices in terms of how to mask his actual wealth."

So just how wealthy is Putin? That's one of the closest guarded secrets in Russia. Szubin declined to comment on an apparently secret 2007 CIA report that estimated Putin's worth at $40 billion, but in the video below, Russian journalist Stanislav Belkovsky gave Panorama that same number, $40 billion in assets, a number he says he drew from his "confidential sources." "I'm still sure Putin is the richest man in Europe, one of the richest men in the world," Belkovsky said.

In 2008, Putin colorfully dismissed the claim that he was Europe's wealthiest man, saying "it's simply rubbish. They just picked all of it out of someone's nose and smeared it across their little papers." Regarding the new allegations, Putin's spokesman told the BBC that "none of these questions or issues needs to be answered, as they are pure fiction." The BBC also noted that "President Putin declined to be interviewed for Panorama." Peter Weber

8:33 a.m. ET

When Donald Trump was given the designation of being Time's Person of the Year on Wednesday morning, he gushed about the "great honor," saying, "I've been lucky enough to be on the cover [of Time] many times this year, and last year."

As it turns out, Time's Trump covers tell their own sort of story — one that reflects Trump's unexpected victory on Nov. 8 and the about-face many critics have had to execute in order to take the former reality show host seriously as the next president of the United States.

It only takes three covers of Time to get the picture. Jeva Lange

8:12 a.m. ET

Pakistan International Airlines reports that one of its planes "disappeared" after it took off Wednesday afternoon from the northern city of Chitral on its way to Islamabad. The plane had more than 40 people on board and lost contact with the civil aviation authority around 4:30 p.m. local time, The Independent reports.

Local media reports that the plane crashed near a village and that rescuers are attempting to make their way to the site. Pakistan's interior ministry has reportedly dispatched a team of forensic experts who work with DNA to identify bodies. Jeva Lange

7:56 a.m. ET

Today show host Matt Lauer put the heat on Donald Trump during the president-elect's Time Person of the Year interview Wednesday morning. Lauer pressed Trump on everything from why he reportedly sold his stock holdings last June to questioning why Trump just can't seem to stop watching Saturday Night Live.

"You seem to understand that perhaps having fights on Twitter would not be appropriate for the president," Lauer said at one point. "I have not seen you backing off fights on Twitter. In the time since you were elected, you've targeted the cast of Hamilton, The New York Times, China, Boeing, the media, and SNL."

Trump was on the defensive throughout — perhaps even a little unexpectedly, as he had started the interview off by calling the Time designation a "great honor." Watch Lauer keep Trump on his toes, below. Jeva Lange

7:47 a.m. ET

Retired Gen. Michael Flynn's penchant for conspiracy theories has prompted growing calls for Donald Trump to drop him as national security adviser, and former CIA official Philip Mudd joined the chorus on CNN's Situation Room on Tuesday. "We have a history of remarkable servants in the Oval Office and in the Situation Room under Republican presidents," he told Wolf Blitzer, name-checking Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice. "We transition now to a national security adviser in a political realm who argues that [an] opponent on the stump should be locked up in prison and who argues that a billion-plus Muslims should be grouped together."

"You want to tell me that we're going to transition in the Situation Room to reality and I'm watching a clown show — I've had it with this, Wolf," he said. "I want to see a transition from a campaign to a reality and I don't see it yet."

Mudd also criticized Flynn's son and chief of staff, Michael G. Flynn, for his conspiracy-tweeting, but the president-elect has already dumped the younger Flynn from his transition team. Peter Weber

7:38 a.m. ET

Time named Donald Trump as Person of the Year on Wednesday morning "for reminding America that demagoguery feeds on despair and that truth is only as powerful as the trust in those who speak it, for empowering a hidden electorate by mainstreaming its furies and live-streaming its fears, and for framing tomorrow's political culture by demolishing yesterday's."

"It's a great honor," Trump told the Today show. "I've been lucky enough to be on the cover many times this year, and last year."

The president-elect beat out Hillary Clinton as well as Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, Russian President Vladimir Putin, musician Beyoncé Knowles, and others for the designation.

Time annually aims to select the person or idea that has had the greatest impact on the news and world in the past year, a tradition it has followed since 1927. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was Time's Person of the Year in 2015 due to her leadership in the Syrian refugee crisis and the Europe debt crisis. Jeva Lange

6:55 a.m. ET
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

On Tuesday night, President-elect Donald Trump repeated his pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and as Vice President-elect Mike Pence met with congressional Republicans, the big question was how long before the repeal takes effect, with options ranging from six months to three years. Also on Tuesday, the two major trade groups representing hospitals warned Trump and GOP leaders in Congress that repealing ObamaCare could cost U.S. hospitals $165 billion by 2026 and force "an unprecedented public health crisis."

When Democrats wrote the Affordable Care Act over 14 months, they carefully balanced the needs of the various sectors in the health care industry, and the American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals argued in a Washington, D.C., press conference that the flood of uninsured patients would cause massive losses at hospitals. If it repeals the law, the hospital industry said, Congress needs to step in with financial aid. The groups, citing a study, estimated that based on the only ObamaCare repeal law Congress has passed (and Obama vetoed), 22 million more people will be uninsured in a decade, and the strain to hospitals from those patients would be "unsettling," as FAH president Charles Kahn III said.

Republicans have put together a repeal vote that can pass with a simple majority in the Senate, avoiding a Democratic filibuster, but any replacement legislation would need Democratic assent. Peter Weber

5:53 a.m. ET
Youssef Karwashan/AFP/Getty Images

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said early Wednesday that rebel forces fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had been driven from Aleppo's Old City and that Assad's forces now control all parts of the quarter. The Syrian army, with help from Russian and allied militias from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, have been mounting a push to drive the rebels from the eastern part of the city, and after two weeks, they now control about 75 percent of eastern Aleppo. A rebel official in Turkey told Reuters that government troops control some but not all of the Old City.

If Assad's forces drive the rebels out of Aleppo, once Syria's commercial hub, it will mark a turning point in the civil war. Food supplies are depleted and all hospitals destroyed by months of heavy bombardment in eastern Aleppo, and tens of thousands of civilians are trapped in the besieged rebel-held areas. The rebels on Wednesday proposed a five-day cease-fire to evacuate civilians and 500 critically injured people. Peter Weber

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