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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

9:47 p.m. ET
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A federal judge ruled on Monday that clerks in Mississippi cannot cite their religious beliefs to recuse themselves from giving same-sex couples marriage licenses.

The state was set to turn House Bill 1523, a religious objections measure filed in response to the Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage last year, into law on Friday, but under the ruling part of it cannot be enforced. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves is extending his previous order that overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriage, The Associated Press reports, and he said all 82 circuit clerks in Mississippi will receive formal notice that they are required to treat all couples equally.

Reeves said the state's elected officials can disagree with the legalization of gay marriage, but "the marriage license issue will not be adjudicated anew after every legislative session." Mississippi's Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, no relation to the judge, released a statement saying he hopes the state's attorneys will appeal the decision to protect the "deeply held religious beliefs" of Mississippians. "If this opinion by the federal court denies even one Mississippian of their fundamental right to practice their religion, then all Mississippians are denied their 1st Amendment rights," he said. Catherine Garcia

8:55 p.m. ET
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On Monday, House Democrats on the Benghazi Select Committee released a 339-page report that they say "debunks many conspiracy theories" about the 2012 Benghazi attacks.

The Democrats, led by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), say they had to make their own report because the Republicans on the committee refused to incorporate their opinions in a joint report, ABC News reports; the Republicans are expected to release their own report as early as Tuesday. The report reveals 21 findings, including some that have been previously announced, like the Defense Department couldn't have done anything differently to save lives and "administration officials did not make intentionally misleading statements about the attacks but instead relied on information they were provided at the time under fast-moving circumstances."

The committee also found no evidence Hillary Clinton denied any security requests from personnel in Benghazi, the report says. More than 40 pages of the report call out the Republican management of the committee, saying time and resources were wasted and Democrats were excluded from some interviews and witness meetings. Catherine Garcia

8:21 p.m. ET
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Volkswagen has agreed to pay almost $15 billion to settle lawsuits in the United States stemming from its rigging of diesel emission tests beginning in 2009, sources told Bloomberg.

Under the settlement, which will be filed Tuesday in San Francisco, the automaker will pay $2.7 billion in fines to the U.S. Environmental Protecting Agency and the California Air Resources Board and spent $2 billion on clear-emissions technology and $10.03 billion to buy back cars from customers at pre-scandal values and to give owners as much as $10,000 per car for their trouble.

The vehicles were emitting more pollutants than allowed under U.S. and California law, and if the deal is approved by a judge, car owners will have to either surrender their vehicles or agree to have them fixed to meet emissions standards. Volkswagen is still facing criminal and civil actions in other jurisdictions, and a source told Bloomberg the company is expected to settle claims with other states, including New York, for about $400 million. Catherine Garcia

7:07 p.m. ET
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For the time being, English is an official language of the European Union and the main working tongue of its institutions, but that could soon change thanks to Brexit.

"English is our official language because it has been notified by the UK," Danuta Hubner, chair of the European Parliament's constitutional affair committee, said Monday during a news conference on the legal repercussions of the UK leaving the EU. "If we don't have the UK, we don't have English." Each member state can nominate one EU idiom, and while English is the most spoken language in Europe, Britain is the only one that chose it, Reuters reports.

English is one of the three languages used by researchers and companies to apply for EU patents, giving English speakers a leg up over the competition, and that edge might soon disappear. All EU documents and legal texts are translated into the bloc's 24 official languages, but Brits would have to do their own translating if English lost its status as an official language. French was the EU's dominant language through the 1990s. Catherine Garcia

5:22 p.m. ET

Iceland defeated England in the European Championship on Monday, besting the Brits in their round of 16 match-up by a score of 2-1. As The Associated Press notes, Iceland was a considerable underdog in the fight, but the Icelandic players took advantage of England's porous defense to take the lead in the 18th minute before shoring up their own defenses to seal the win.

"This defeat will probably go down as England's most humiliating since losing 1-0 to the United States in the 1950 World Cup," AP writes. But it looks like Iceland and its fans are having quite the time celebrating:

England's manager Roy Hodgson — who makes more than $4 million a year, while his Icelandic counterpart is a part-time dentistresigned after the stunning loss. But as writer Karl Sharro pointed out back in February, maybe the scheduling of the whole thing was just too tempting for the fates to pass up. Iceland goes on to face France in the Euro quarter-finals Sunday. Kimberly Alters

3:36 p.m. ET
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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg didn't just slam the two provisions in the Texas abortion clinic law that the court ruled against Monday — she went ahead and took down the very premise of the law, too. In a separate concurrence to Justice Stephen Breyer's majority decision that Texas' provisions placed an "undue burden" on a woman's constitutional right to an abortion, Ginsburg suggested that the law's very claim that it was created in the interest of protecting women's health was a whole lotta baloney.

"The Texas law called H.B.2 inevitably will reduce the number of clinics and doctors allowed to provide abortion services. Texas argues that H.B.2's restrictions are constitutional because they protect the health of women who experience complications from abortions. In truth, 'complications from an abortion are both rare and rarely dangerous,'" Ginsburg wrote, citing a brief by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Furthermore, Ginsburg pointed out that medical procedures, "including childbirth, are far more dangerous to patients, yet are not subject to ambulatory surgical-center or hospital admitting-privileges requirements." The provisions the Supreme Court struck down required that abortion facilities meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, and that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

With that evidence in mind, Ginsburg concluded: "... [I]t is beyond rational belief that H.B.2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions." Becca Stanek

2:54 p.m. ET
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Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) first day on the campaign trail with Hillary Clinton fueled some feisty attacks. Donald Trump, for one, was quick to fire back at Warren's digs towards him with some accusations of his own. "She said she's 5 percent Native American. She was unable to prove it. She used the fact that she was Native American to advance her career," Trump said. "Elizabeth Warren is a total fraud. I know it." Trump also noted that Warren is "a racist," explaining "she made up her heritage, which I think is racist."

Trump wasn't the only Republican to latch onto Warren's Native American heritage. Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who lost his Senate seat to Warren in 2012, was similarly skeptical, and said Warren ought to take a DNA test and release her records from Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, where she taught.

However, Brown seemed to have already made up his mind about what such tests would reveal. "Secretary Clinton is considering making someone the vice president who has very serious character flaws when it comes to honesty and credibility in dealing with her heritage," Brown said. "And what did that do? That took away somebody who truly was a Native American and gave that opportunity to somebody who's not, and that's just not right. It's a reverse form of racism, quite frankly."

Only four months to go, folks. Becca Stanek

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